The Saudis Take a Stroll on J Street

Little was heard of the Saudi peace plan after the Alliance of Peace episode. Until recently, that is.

Abdullah’s peace plan, also called the “Arab Peace Initiative” and the “Arab League Plan,” was presented on an “all or nothing basis ” in 2002. It insisted on the Arab interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which demands a return to the 1949 armistice lines, a position at odds with the American and British drafters’ intentions. The plan also demands a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue “in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” That resolution is understood by the Arabs to include the Palestinian “right of return” to areas they fled between 1947 and 1949, areas and even major cities in today’s Israel. Israel rejects “the right of return” as a mortal threat to its existence.

Today, the Saudi plan is a major tenet in J Street’s platform.

J Street’s website position papers state, “U.S. leadership can be deployed … to normalize relations between Israel and the Arab world, utilizing the Arab Peace Initiative and helping to create institutional frameworks for regional cooperation.”

When asked about the plan in a Ha’aretz interview in June 2009, J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami responded, “Yes, we support the idea behind the Arab Peace Initiative -- which is that resolution of the conflict needs to be regional and comprehensive.”

In a November CNN interview with Christine Amanpour, Ben-Ami referred to the Arab plan repeatedly, including: “The Arab League has put on the table not simply an Israeli-Palestinian deal, but an Israeli-Arab comprehensive peace with the entirety of the Arab world.”

Why does J Street push the Saudi initiative? Perhaps the answer lies in the new “alliance” that has been formed -- the very close ties between Saudi Arabia, the Arab American Institute, and J Street.

In September 2009, J Street joined some 30 ethnic and religious groups to support Obama’s Middle East diplomatic efforts. One of the groups was the Arab American Institute, which posted on its Internet site the coalition’s statement. Included was this clause: “We support the idea of a comprehensive regional peace that builds on the Arab Peace Initiative.”

A member of J Street’s advisory board, Judith Barnett, worked on aspects of the Saudi account for Qorvis in 2004. She was also one of the first contributors to J Street’s PAC and was later joined in the PAC by Nancy Dutton, the Saudi Embassy’s Washington attorney; Lewis Elbinger, a U.S. State Department official who was based in Saudi Arabia; and Ray Close, the CIA’s station chief in Saudi Arabia for 22 years who later went to work for Saudi intelligence bosses. Close’s son Kenneth registered at the Justice Department as a foreign agent, working for Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the author of the Saudi peace plan.

Beyond sharing support for the Saudi plan, the J Street-AAI financial and ideological ties also appear to be very tight. Richard Abdoo is a member of J Street’s finance committee with its minimum contribution of $10,000 to J Street’s PAC. James Zogby recently wrote in the Bahrain Gulf Daily, “On October 25, [2009] the Arab American Institute and J Street convened a joint meeting that brought leaders and activists from both communities together as an expression of our shared commitment to advance a just and comprehensive Middle East peace.”

J Street’s embrace of the Saudi initiative is not a surprise, considering the strong endorsement the plan received from George Soros, J Street’s purported godfather and sugar daddy.

“The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative,” Soros wrote in a 2007 manifesto, “[is] a settlement to be guaranteed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, based on the 1967 borders and full recognition of Israel. The offer was meant to be elaborated by Saudi King Abdullah at the Arab League meeting to be hosted by Saudi Arabia at the end of March. But no progress is possible as long as the Bush administration and the Ehud Olmert government persist in their current position of refusing to recognize a unity government that includes Hamas.”

Incredibly, the billionaire blames AIPAC for the initiative’s failure, a factor that may explain Soros’ burning desire to create a left-wing alternative to AIPAC. “Both for the sake of Israel and the United States, it is highly desirable that the Saudi peace initiative should succeed; but AIPAC stands in the way. It continues to oppose dealing with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.”

Despite its recent national conference, J Street still defies definition. Beyond Ben-Ami, its ubiquitous and loquacious director, the decision-makers and major funders of J Street remain anonymous. The Saudi-Arab-American Institute-J Street nexus begins to provide some definition to the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” organization. But more disclosure is needed.