The present round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have potential to finally establish a two-state solution, said Jeremy Ben-Ami ’84, the president and founder of J Street,a U.S. advocacy group that promotes a diplomatic end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a lectureon Tuesdayafternoon. He said a two-state solution would bethe best option for everyone involved.
J Streetwas founded in support of a two-state solution, Ben-Ami said. He noted that Israel faces a fundamental choice among three things, of which it could only retain two: the land it currently controls, its fundamental commitment to democracy and the Jewish character of the state of Israel.
“We say that working for the creation of Palestinian state is a quintessentially pro-Israel position,” Ben-Ami said.
Ben-Ami said the parameters of a viable deal had been laid out, including in the work of Wilson School professor Daniel Kurtzer, who was not at the lecture. Several times throughout the lecture, Ben-Ami mentioned Kurtzer, once joking that “if he doesn’t speak up, I’m going to keep mentioning him; I go to hear him speak.”
Likening Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to a divorce dispute, Ben-Ami highlighted the important role the United States could play as a mediator to bring the sides together and actively work to reach an agreement.
In describing current American policy, Ben-Ami expressed approval of current White House efforts, describing President Obama’s recent speech to the young people of Jerusalem as “one of the most impressive and significant speeches by an American president on this topic.”
Turning briefly to Iran, Ben-Ami criticized those who turned from diplomatic conversations in favor of continued sanctions, arguing that the end goal of placing sanctions on Iran in the first place was to reach a deal. He said the efforts of Israel’s prime minister “to use his bully pulpit”werethreatening to whatthe rest of the international community believes is a solid deal.
For both Israelis and Palestinians who claim to support a two-state solution but are unwilling to acknowledge that both sides must make sacrifices, Ben-Ami offered the title “two-staters in name only,” a play on the pejorative term “RINO” used to describe insufficiently conservative Republicans.He noted that over 80 percent of the Jewish-American community say they support a two-state deal.
“It’s in my blood to be concerned for, passionate about … the state of Israel,” Ben-Ami said, describing his personal connection to the issue, as his grandparents were among the 60 families that helped found Tel Aviv and his father was an active participant of a right-wing freedom-fighting movement.
J Street’s guiding principle is a fundamental belief in a two-state solution as the best option for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according toAryeh Nussbaum Cohen ’15. Nussbaum Cohen is the founder of the Princeton chapter ofJ Street U, the student arm of the organization, and aJ Street U student board representative.
Nussbaum Cohen founded the Princeton chapter last November, as he found himself frustrated with the “polarized dynamic” on campus and organized a vigil and call for a cease-fire.Since its arrival on college campuses in the fall of 2011, J Street U has extended to over 50 campuses, according to Nussbaum Cohen.
“I knew I cared deeply about Israel and Palestine,” Nussbaum Cohen. “I was frustrated by the lack of real conversation on campus.”
J Street U has a separate staff and includes a focus on running programming that gives people the opportunity to learn, while J Street is more focused on political efforts, Nussbaum Cohen said.The national organization includes an education fund and a political action committee that supports candidates to stand up for policies.
Ben-Ami's lecture, sponsored by J Street U and the Wilson School,was held in Dodds Auditorium in Robertson Hall.