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Hanegbi sought to convince reporters that it was not his views that had changed, but those of J Street. The group, he said, is now “more left-center than extreme.”
That was certainly borne out by the prime time speakers at the full plenary, a forum reserved for more centrist voices. But the group was also careful to preserve places for voices to its left that are rarely heard in mainstream Jewish gatherings. In breakout sessions participants could hear discussions on boycotting Israel and on the Palestinian Nakba — or catastrophe, as Palestinians often refer to the 1948 war that established Israel, which was accompanied by the expulsion or flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the new state who became refugees. Such forums were a clear sign that J Street is attempting to assure the substantial number of people to its left among the group’s rank-and-file that they continue to have a place.
Hanegbi’s own early years in politics were devoted to fighting Israel’s peace accord with Egypt and to defending Israel’s exclusively Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. But he has since become a supporter of a two-state solution. He told J Street’s conference attendees that this was a view he shared with Netanyahu.
Hanegbi dismissed the notion that the Likud is gradually shifting away from this vision and toward one of a Jewish state on all the West Bank.
“There’s a big mistake in using the term ‘two-state solution,’” Hanegbi argued, explaining that many politicians who express opposition to it do not understand the parameters of a future agreement.
Still, leading members of Hanegbi’s party, such as Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, have spoken out in America and at home against a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Indeed, politicians such as Danon already play a prominent role in supporting hawkish American Jewish groups, not dissimilar to the kind of help J Street now appears to be seeking from public officials to their left.
Still, Sheetrit added a splash of cold water on the face of those hoping for a new era of cooperation with Israel’s political mainstream. “U.S. Jews cannot change the situation in Israel by remote control,” he said. “If you want to make a change, make aliyah.”