Mr. Hanegbi goes to J Street

Is Ze’ev Jabotinsky rolling in his grave?

J Street, the pro-Israel, pro two-state-solution lobby, has long been an ally of Israel’s center-left and the bete-noir of its right. The group’s annual national conferences have featured endorsements from advocates of the two-state solution like Tzipi Livni, the current government envoy to the Palestinians, and Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister-turned-outspoken critic of Israel’s West Bank occupation.


But when he became prime minister in 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu kept his distance. Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren, took his time warming up to J Street, while others in the government took shots at the group’s claim to be pro-Israel.

But even Bibi seems to have come around. In addition to center-left opposition MKs like Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich and Meretz’s Zahava Galon, present at this year’s confab will be Tzachi Hanegbi, a Netanyahu ally and Knesset member from the right-wing Likud party.

To be fair, Hanegbi was never the rightest of the right. He joined the centrist Kadima soon after Ariel Sharon founded it in 2005, and stayed with the party until 2012. This year, he reunited with Netanyahu as a Likudnik.

His appearance at the J Street event may be part of Bibi’s ongoing campaign to convince the world that, despite decades of opposition to a Palestinian state, he’s now willing — eager even — to accept one. It may also be a vote of confidence in the fledgling Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, though no one knows where they’ll be in late September when the conference begins.

Still, it’s no small thing when Likud, a Revisionist Zionist party founded by fierce two-state opponent Menachem Begin, sends a representative to the conference of an organization founded to push the two-state solution.

Ben Sales is JTA’s Israel correspondent. He reports on Israeli politics, culture, society and economics, in addition to covering Palestinian and regional affairs. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and the Columbia University Journalism School, he is the former editor-in-chief of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine.