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Contrasting Views: J Street and AIPAC on U.S. Stance Toward East Jerusalem Construction

J Street has launched a campaign supporting Washington’s firm stance against Israel’s latest building plan in East Jerusalem, in sharp contrast to a statement criticizing the U.S. stance by the mainstream American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In a March 16 announcement, J Street, a newer, more dovish but avowedly pro-Israel lobby, said that recent U.S.-Israel tensions were being used by “hawkish pro-Israel activists … to attack the Obama administration over Israel, urging the administration to slow down and back off.”

In response, J Street said it had “delivered over 18,000 signatures” backing the adminstration’s stance to the White House.

Israel’s announcement of plans to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem, made during a visit to the country by Vice President Joseph Biden, strained ties with the U.S., which has said it regarded the announcement an insult to Biden and an affront to the peace process both for its timing and substance.

Biden publicly condemned the new housing project, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for its timing, saying he was caught unaware by the announcement, which came from his Interior Ministry. He did not apologize for its substance and later said that construction of exclusively Jewish housing in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem would continue.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton continued to strongly criticize the Israeli decision publicly and in talks with senior Israelis in the days that followed.

On March 17, Israeli President Shimon Peres called the United States “a true friend” and said that both Israel and the U.S. wanted to ease the recent tensions between the two nations. Netanyahu and Biden spoke by phone late on March 16.

In a March 14 statement, AIPAC, the larger pro-Israel Washington lobby, termed the spate of critical U.S. statements “a matter of serious concern.”

“The administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests,” the AIPAC statement said. “We strongly urge the administration to work closely and privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic allies, to address any issues between the two governments.”

In contrast, J Street urged the administration to “turn this crisis into an opportunity for progress on two states” by addressing “a core issue at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians — the need to establish a border between Israel and the future Palestinian state.

“Too much time has already been lost in getting the two sides into negotiations,” J Street said in a statement released March 15, adding: “We cannot let any single provocative Israeli announcement of construction in East Jerusalem, no matter how infuriating, delay progress toward a two-state solution.

“Bold American leadership is needed now to turn this crisis into a real opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a fundamental American national security interest.”

Abraham Foxman, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, told Haaretz, however, that he believed President Obama was a friend of Israel. “But I think it’s a mistaken and counterproductive strategy and flawed analysis of what is in the best interest of the U.S.,” he said. “Support of Israel has served the U.S. interests more than supporting anyone else in the world.

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