The head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Washington office received a thunderous welcome on Monday afternoon from self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” activists at the 10th anniversary J Street conference. Despite a speech peppered with obvious agitprop, Husam Zomlot was cheered heartily by attendees.
“It warms my heart to know we have allies like you,” Zomlot told the crowd. “Allies with such courage and conviction to stand up for what is right. You are not dreamers, but realists.”
The J Street lobbying agenda includes extensive demands on Israel and none on the Palestinians, apparently affirming Zomlot’s contention that an alliance exists between the PLO and the progressive lobbying group.
Before becoming PLO envoy to Washington in 2016, Zomlot founded the Palestine Strategy Group, an organization created to provide strategic and public-relations strategies to “help guide the Palestinian national project,” and “inform and influence policy decisions.” In a 2017 profile in Politico, Zomlot claimed: “How this conflict has been depicted and portrayed in America is wrong, inaccurate and misinformed. One of my main missions is to make it accurate. We will have to redefine the discourse on this whole thing.”
His speech on Monday was full of such redefinition. Zomlot laid out a platform to which he claimed the Palestinian leadership was committed. His list included a nonspecific “dignified and just peace,” “two democratic and egalitarian states,” and a “meaningful, genuine, credible peace process.” He also said his leadership was committed to “a two-state solution on the 1967 borders” which, despite the audience’s enthusiastic applause, would leave the Old City of Jerusalem, including the holiest Jewish sites, in a foreign country. Zomlot also claimed that his leadership is committed (and always has been) to nonviolence.
The Palestinian have “done their share” for peace, he insisted. They have, he said, recognized Israel “on 78 percent of historic Palestine,” a formulation that might have rung a little hollow with the minority of centrist attendees. He vowed that the Palestinians would not accept “redefining what the two-state solution means” and, again to much applause, said that there would be no interim agreements, no state without East Jerusalem, no state without Gaza, no state with provisional borders, no state without a resolution for Palestinian refugees, and no state “with even one Israeli soldier on its soil.”
Despite a long history of hostility to Jewish worship at holy sites in Hebron, Shechem and Bethlehem, Zomlot vowed that “once peace prevails, once the state of Palestine is established, once that state has East Jerusalem as its capital, we will not only recognize the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, but we will celebrate the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”
Clapping from the crowd suggested that they believed him.
Zomlot clearly appreciated the work that J Street has done and took his 34-minute speech as “an opportunity to commend J Street—to commend the relentless work, your dedication, your investment. You have partners in us, the people of Palestine and the leadership of Palestine.”
Jonathan Greenberg is an ordained reform rabbi, and senior vice president of the news and public-policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him @JGreenbergSez.