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Sunday, May 31, 2009

What a difference - James Zogby

At their White House press briefing last week, Netanyahu may have been stubborn, but Obama too held his ground. Addressing his remarks directly to the cameras, the US president lectured Netanyahu about the steps that must be taken: "all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations they previously agreed to"; "settlements have to be stopped"; "if the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can't even get clean water... if the border closures are so tight it is impossible for reconstruction or humanitarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for [the] peace track to move forward," and much more.

But it wasn't only a new and tougher president that Netanyahu ran into last week; it was also a very different Jewish community. A recent poll of American Jews commissioned by J Street, the Jewish pro-peace lobby, found that substantial majorities of American Jews (in the 70 per cent range) support President Obama and support a two-state solution that includes a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and some limited "right of return". In addition, a strong majority oppose settlement construction and opinion is split down the middle on whether or not to cut aid to Israel if they become an obstacle to achieving peace.

It has been clear for many years now that majority opinion in the Jewish community was not represented by the hawkish voice of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This pro-peace orientation has taken an institutional form, and is now stronger and more vocal than it was a decade ago. Groups like J Street, Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v'Shalomare, are active, working not only within the Jewish community but also in coalition with Arab Americans to change US-Middle East policy. The efforts of this pro- peace lobby were on display this week for Netanyahu to see.


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