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Increasing attention is being paid to the upcoming J Street conference taking place in Washington DC on October 25-28.  I will be attending this conference and am greatly looking forward to it.  A recent article from The Forward, reprinted on the Ha’aretz website, called Sure, J Street is pro-peace – but is it pro-Israel? illustrates pretty clearly the problem of the current Israeli government.  The article says J Street

is still struggling to prove its pro-Israel credentials.  The latest bump in the road was the refusal of Israel’s ambassador to the United States to meet with the group, citing concerns that J Street’s views might harm Israel’s interests.

The problem here is that the Israeli government has not proven that it is truly interested in making any efforts to engage in real negotiations.  The simple dismissal that has come from the Israeli embassy does not bolster their case.  No specifics are offered as to what they don’t like, and instead of engaging in discussion, the ambassador chooses to ignore the group’s invitation.

I think J Street is a pretty moderate group that clearly supports the State of Israel.  I know people on the left who are skeptical of the group because of their strong support of the country.  In my opinion, J Street is acting pragmatically and I have real hope for the group.

If the Israeli government really regarded peace as an important goal, it would at least claim to support J Street’s aims.  Israel has a history of undermining American Jewish groups that advocate for peace efforts.  In the 1970s Israeli officials spoke out against the group Breira, which urged Israel to make greater efforts for peace with the Arab world.

Today’s Ha’aretz has an article elaborating on the Israeli response, and the positive reception by the Obama Administration. It’s encouraging and perfectly understandable that the Obama Administration would see J Street in a positive light, particularly as the Israeli government has been less than honest with the American government.  As pointed out in an article from a few days ago pointing out that ‘despite promises to Obama, construction continues in dozens of W. Bank settlements’ .  It’s difficult to take claims by Netanyahu seriously when he constantly thumbs his nose at the US.  A group like J Street is needed for those who genuinely care about Israel.  The Israeli’s seem set on driving off a cliff, and J Street is trying to stop them.

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Although not yet official, several news outlets are reporting that Obama will choose George Mitchell as his Mideast envoy. Mitchell is a man with experience in negotiations, having worked on peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.  He also is familiar with the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  He issued a report in 2001 recommending a freeze on settlements, and a Palestinian crackdown on terrorist activities.

Apparently, The ADL’s Abe Foxman thinks Mitchell is too ‘fair’ and ‘even-handed’ to serve as Middle East envoy. Pretty interesting statement from Foxman.  I’ll let it speak for itself.

In my opinion, Mitchell is an important choice because the Bush Administration seriously damaged the Arab world’s faith in America as a fair mediator in peace negotiations.  Mitchell is half-Lebanese, which is different from having all American Jews, which has often been the case when America sends negotiators.  In itself, there is nothing wrong with that, but it probably does not serve to reassure the Arab parties of America’s goodwill.

Apparently Dennis Ross may be kept in some capacity in the Middle East, and that’s fine, considering his extensive experience, but I think it is wise not to put him directly in charge of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

As always, we just have to wait and see what will happen, but I think it is a positive first step from the Obama Administration.

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