WASHINGTON - On the second night of the 2017 J Street conference, four members of the Israeli Knesset spoke at the central session of the day, commenting on the two-state solution, U.S.-Israel ties and Israel's support for the U.S. Jewish community.
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One surprising speaker was Member of Knesset Akram Hasoon, from the center-right Kulanu Party, led by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and a member of Netanyahu's coalition. Hasson said it would be "very hard" to advance the peace process with Netanyahu in power and the right wing government currently leading Israel.
He added that he hoped Kahlon would work to advance "economic peace" with the Palestinians by improving the economic situation in the West Bank. Hasoon also told the crowd about his failed attempt last year to convince Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to come and speak before the Israeli Knesset.
"Abbas knows very well that no other Arab leader will go along without the Palestinians," Hasoon said regarding the chances of a regional peace plan. "Nobody [in the Arab world] will say - 'I will lead on peace, I will start a new relationship with Israel, and only then we'll talk about the Palestinians."
Hasoon expressed hope that President Trump will soon tell Abbas and Netanyahu "I gave you 100 days and nothing happened," and then lead an American effort for a peace deal which Trump has called "the ultimate deal."
Voices from the opposition
Hasoon was the only Israeli lawmaker speaking at the conference who is a member of Netanyahu's government. The three other MKs who addressed the conference Monday night - Omer Bar Lev (Zionist Union), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Ayman Odeh (Joint List) - are all from the opposition. Zandberg spoke about the importance of forging cooperation between Israel's left wing opposition and those in America organizing against the Trump administration.
Bar-Lev, hinting at Netanyahu's corruption investigations, said to roaring applause that "Netanyahu will not be the next prime minister of Israel."
Odeh, the leader of the Joint List - a merger of the socialist Hadash Party and two Israeli Arab parties - talked about the recent and deadly incident in Umm al Hiran, a Bedouin village in the south of Israel, where a local resident was shot by Israeli police while driving in his car, and then ran over a police officer. Both the driver and the officer died on the scene, with the police claiming the Bedouin was attempting a terror attack at the time.
Odeh blamed the Israeli government's insistence on destroying the village because of building irregularities for the incident, and spoke of how he himself was injured by what he claimed was a rubber bullet while demonstrating against the demolition.
Odeh attacked Israel's Labor Party – now part of the Zionist Party - and called it "a shadow of the right wing." He accused the opposition party of bowing down to Netanyahu's government and said it was time to build a new opposition in Israel, and to work together with partners in the United States.
"We need solidarity more than ever," he said. "When anti-Semitism and islamophobia are growing in the halls of power and in the streets, we need our solidarity more than ever. In your homeland and in mine, we will create that kind of opposition," he declared.
Alan Solow, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, warned during the conference of the danger Israel faced by becoming too closely affiliated with the Trump presidency.
Solow said that the support of the U.S. Jewish community is "a strategic asset for Israel" and that any erosion in that support could endanger the bi-partisan support Israel has enjoyed for decades in the United States. Solow said that a similar phenomenon could take place if Netanyahu would lead Israel towards annexation of the West Bank, something which would lead mainstream Jewish groups to strongly criticize the Israeli government.