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Young leaders lauded at GA

As Jewish communal leaders from across the globe met in Washington last week, one theme permeated almost every session: The federation system’s future lies with its young leaders.

The new executive director of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry Silverman, told reporters at the group’s General Assembly that he wants to see 10 times as many young adults at next year’s conference. The federation system, he said, is searching for new ways to reach younger donors.

On the second day of the GA, some 200 young leaders gathered at a luncheon honoring people 45 and under who have been active in their communities.

Earlier this year, Lisa Beth Meisel of Tenafly and Michael Starr of Oradell received the Russell Berrie Young Leadership Award at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual meeting. Alumni of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program, they were invited to the reception at the GA to share their successes.

Starr first got active in UJA-NNJ 14 years ago, through the Jewish Community Relations Council, and eventually became chair of the JCRC. He is chair of UJA-NNJ’s strategic planning process and a member of the steering committee of the Kehillah Partnership, which links communal organizations through cost- and revenue-sharing. “It’s a huge honor,” he said of the award. “It’s just a very flattering recognition of doing what I think is important work I wish more people were doing.”

Lisa Beth Meisel

He praised GA organizers for bringing everybody together at the young leadership luncheon, but added that more needs to be done. “The federation needs to do a better job of engaging young leadership,” Starr said. “That’s something the leadership of the federation itself recognizes. When you look at strategic planning, the need to engage younger families and people is critical for federation.”

Starr sees a lot of momentum building for such outreach. “It’s going to take time, but we really need to reach people when they’re first moving to the community and starting families and help them realize federation provides opportunities to make differences in their community’s lives and in their own lives,” he said.

As a past board member of UJA-NNJ’s Women’s Division, Meisel was vice chair of its outreach and education committee and chaired its Lion of Judah campaign. She serves on the board of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, where she chairs the health and recreation department. She is also in her sixth and final year of serving on the national Young Leadership Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“It seems like a small drop of water that ends up filling a pond, then a lake, and then an ocean,” she said of her communal work and the effect it’s had on others.

Michael Starr

A friend from the Jersey 2 Jerusalem community mission in 2007 went on to volunteer with Bergen Reads, she noted. And, Meisel said, her dedication to communal work has spread to the rest of her family. Her husband, Greg, was co-chair of J2J, while their children, Jordan and Benjamin, have found their own ways to get involved.

“My son goes to Maccabi games, and there are thousands of kids that participate and do tzedakah projects and are actively involved in being Jewish,” she said. “Young people are engaging in ways that are different … and they’re creating new programs that are beyond what I would have thought of.”


Federation moves 2010 GA


Last year, the run-up to the annual conference of Jewish federations saw their umbrella body announce a name change and install a new CEO.

This year, months before the conference, the organization is making a late change to the conference’s venue — to New Orleans from Orlando, Fla. — and unveiling five new priority areas.

It’s all part of the ongoing struggle by the decade-old umbrella organization for federations — now called the Jewish Federations of North America — to prove its value to its 157 Jewish federations and, more specifically, to help the federations cope with the challenging philanthropic landscape brought on by the economic crisis.

The decision to move the 2010 General Assembly and the annual women’s philanthropy conference, the International Lions of Judah Conference, to New Orleans was due to practical considerations, federation officials said: Orlando simply didn’t have the necessary space.

“We needed to re-evaluate the venue,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations. “Unfortunately, the space in Orlando does not meet the needs that would best accommodate both events, and the alternatives in Orlando logistically would have compromised the momentum built from GA 2009.”

New Orleans, for which the federation system raised some $30 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, was an attractive substitute.

“In reviewing our options, it became clear that New Orleans was a community where we, as a Jewish community and family, could reflect on our collective responsibility and action together,” Silverman said.

Silverman addressed the other major change at the Jewish Federations — the announcement of its new priority areas — on a conference call Monday from Dallas, where the organization was holding its board meetings.

The five areas of focus that the organization hopes will guide the federation system into the future are financial resource development; positioning for the future; talent; the power of the collective; and Israel and overseas.

In harnessing the power of the collective, the federation system wants to figure out how to use the collective experience of its 157 member federations to do better fund-raising and programming, and share best practices and talent.

The focus areas have been developed over the past several months through discussions with dozens of local federations.

“We know we need to create a pipeline of talent both from within and outside of our federations,” said Kathy Manning, the Jewish Federations’ top lay leader. “We want to make sure we are creating a culture where federations become the place to be in the Jewish community.”

While the details have yet to be worked out, the umbrella body is considering creating a professional training program to help recruit talented recent college graduates into the federation system, Silverman said.

Silverman said he would like the program to be a collaboration of the entire system that could either funnel talent through the national office to local federations or cultivate talent on a local level.

“We have to flesh it out, put it to budget, size it, and see how we can do it — then pilot it,” he said. “We’re getting it ready for recruitment in the fall, when it is ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”

The General Assembly also will take place in the fall, with slightly different dates than originally planned: The GA will be Nov. 7-9, and the Lions of Judah Conference will take place Nov. 8-10.

The concerns with the original venue, Walt Disney World’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort, centered on whether the resort could handle the GA’s dining needs and how much it would cost to shuttle conference participants from location to location at Disney World.

The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, Hope Kramer, said she found out about the decision within the past two weeks. While her federation is missing out on an opportunity, she said, Kramer believes the umbrella group made a decision that it felt was best for the entire federation system.

Having the GA in town “does invigorate and engage those who have not been involved for a while or are tired or getting stressed. That is a great shot in the arm; that is what I will miss,” Kramer told JTA. “I am concerned about the way it came to me, but it was clear it was just the best decision for the federations.

“Disney can do a lot of things, but we are talking about 6,000 people,” she said. “These hotels get really booked around here.”

The federations had a contract with Disney, and the financial ramifications of canceling were not immediately clear.

“We feel we will be able to work though it with minimal liability,” Silverman said.



Ahmadinejad, media rock star


Youth and consequences


Local delegates laud this year’s GA

Fifty percent of affiliated American Jews are baby boomers, like these participants at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans on Nov. 9. Courtesy JFNA

As America’s 77 million baby boomers retire, they will place an unprecedented burden on the Jewish community’s infrastructure.

They will need more services, and many will want to become involved in a community that isn’t making room for them.

The federation system in particular needs to meet the challenge — now, as the oldest boomers turn 65 next year — or face losing the wealthiest and most highly educated generation in American Jewish history.

Those are two salient results of a study presented Monday at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America titled “Baby Boomers, Public Service and Minority Communities: A Case Study of the Jewish Community in the United States.”

The report, a joint effort by New York University’s Berman Jewish Policy Archive and the university’s Research Center for Leadership in Action, analyzed a national survey of more than 6,500 Jewish baby boomers — those born between 1948 and 1964 — in 34 U.S. communities.

Jewish baby boomers expect to work after retirement age, want that work to be meaningful and want it to help others, but are not necessarily committed to working within the Jewish community, the report found. Boomers represent 50 percent of affiliated Jews in the United States — a major loss if they disappear.

“Even affiliated and involved Jews will look elsewhere if the meaning they seek is not available within the Jewish community,” said David Elcott, the Taub professor of public service at NYU’s graduate school and author of the report.

While most Jewish boomers plan to work or volunteer in an “encore” career after retiring, the survey showed that 35 percent aren’t sure what kind of work they want to do, and 42 percent expect to get paid for it. The Jewish community is used to relying on its older population to volunteer, Elcott said.

Not only that, but just over a third of boomers surveyed said they “want to help other Jews” in their encore career, and just 14 percent look at the new career as a way of expressing their Jewish identity.

Nearly 86 percent of those hoping to perform public service work would like to work through a Jewish organization, the survey showed, but that does not mean they are committed to helping Jews, Elcott noted. They could just as well be building homes in New Orleans or doing literacy training in inner cities.

If Jewish organizations cannot provide meaningful outlets, Elcott cautioned, would-be volunteers will look elsewhere.

“This is the first generation for whom it will be as natural to work with the YMCA as with a Jewish organization,” he said. “We are not prepared for that. We’re prepared for it from our 30-year-olds, but not from this middle generation.”

The federation system and other Jewish communal structures have been putting much of their funding and emphasis into programs for Jewish youth and children, with some attention to the very elderly. But for the most part they have ignored or taken for granted the needs of the generation in its mid-40s to early 60s.

“If we fail to engage them, some of the connections between that group and the organized Jewish community seem to weaken,” Stuart Himmelfarb, chief marketing officer and director of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, told The Jewish Standard after the session.

Himmelfarb will leave his federation position later this month to begin work with Elcott on the boomer issue.

“We’re going to work on trying to bring this item onto agendas around the country,” he said.

That agenda includes working not only with boomers but Jewish organizations that can capitalize on boomers’ skills. There are “tremendous opportunities,” Himmelfarb said, for retired professionals to put their skills to work in the Jewish communal world, and the Jewish community needs to take advantage of these professionals. Himmelfarb, for example, retired from a career in marketing at age 54 and then went to work for the federation in marketing.

“We need to train people. We need to help them understand the change of working in not-for-profits,” Himmelfarb said. “And [we need to] work with organizations that can potentially host these workers and help them prepare for the arrival of people with very different skills sets.”

Some federations are beginning to reach out to boomers in a concerted way.

JBoomers, a grass-roots nonprofit created to advocate for boomers within the Jewish community, plans to launch Nov. 21.

Linda Blumberg, planning director for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, told the GA audience that her federation and Jewish Family Services agency are seeing increased numbers of boomers seeking their help.

American Jews over 50 are losing their jobs and coming to the federation for help paying mortgages, accessing health care, and training for jobs in new sectors, she said. Blumberg noted that many are former donors who are no longer able or willing to give — at least not at previous levels.

The Detroit federation has created a number of programs to help these adults. Women to Work provides job training for women who have never been in the workforce but whose husbands are now unemployed. Prime Time helps those over 50 prepare for a second career and acquire necessary computer skills, as well as providing information about estate planning and medical care.

“Federations are certainly interested in increasing their donor base, and are looking for ways to engage baby boomers as volunteers, too,” Blumberg said, noting that a number of boomers have been recruited to serve on committees, plan these initiatives, and even provide the pro-bono professional services that their colleagues now need to access, from medical care to legal advice.

It is well known that federations are trying to engage and train young leaders, but this year for the first time the Detroit federation started a leadership training program for boomers to bring them into the federation system as planners and other agency personnel.

“We are looking for opportunities that speak to them, where they can give back to the community and make a difference,” Blumberg said. “Federations around the country haven’t really developed a comprehensive approach” to the problem.

“If we lose this generation,” she said, “we lose their children and grandchildren.”

JTA Wire Service

Josh Lipowsky contributed to this report


Local delegates laud this year’s GA

Lions roar in New Orleans

As the General Assembly got underway on Monday, so did the annual International Lion of Judah Conference, the federation system’s women’s philanthropic organization, with more than 1,100 “lions” from around the world.

With a theme of “We are, we can, we do,” the conference provided a rewarding opportunity for community service, said lion Gale S. Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes, who also co-chaired the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey GA delegation.

“To have 1,100 lions in a room, all understanding that it’s from their hearts they give, and Jewish values they give, and they travel across the country to be together — it’s a privilege and an honor,” she said.

On the first day of the conference, the lions put together bags of supplies for disabled homeless people. On Tuesday, the lions, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Let’s read” logos, boarded buses for charter schools, where they handed out backpacks full of books from the PJ Library, a project that sends children’s books to families. The volunteers then spent almost two hours reading to the children, who wore the same kind of shirts.

Bindelglass handed a backpack to 7-year-old Aja, who thanked her with a hug. Although the books were not Jewish and they were not visiting Jewish schools, as she watched the kids write their names in their new backpacks and books, Bindelglass said she was reminded of why there is such a Jewish emphasis on philanthropy.

“Everybody made connections with these students,” she said. “That’s what all this work is about. It’s all about connectivity, one human being to another.”

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Local delegates laud this year’s GA

NEW ORLEANS, La. – After three days of schmoozing, sessions, and feel-good speeches, the 3,000 or so Jewish federation officials who came to the annual General Assembly may have left New Orleans feeling invigorated.

The view expressed by many top officials was that after two years of a tough recession, the worst is over.

The federations collectively raised about $900 million through their annual campaigns in 2009 and, with two months to go in 2010, they have raised $750 million — within about 4 percent of where they were last year at this time, according to the treasurer of the Jewish Federations of North America, Michael Gelman.

“We are feeling cautiously optimistic that we have pushed from out of the depths,” Jerry Silverman, the CEO of the Jewish Federations, said at a news conference Sunday, the first day of the three-day gathering.

But between the feel-good atmosphere — enhanced by the presence of Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a day of service learning that took the federation on a path outside the traditional workshop boardroom —some suggested that serious problems lurk just beneath the surface.

With an aging donor base — 90 percent of federation givers are older than 45, according to a newly released report looking at fund-raising in the last six to 10 years — the federation system must figure out how to engage a new generation of Jewish donors to survive. The impending retirement of the American baby boomers could cost the federations a significant chunk of their donor base.

The total number of dollars raised by the federations through their campaigns grew between 2000 and 2006 before falling over the past three years. Meanwhile, the number of federation donors is about 450,000, down from a high of 900,000 a couple of decades ago, federation officials often say.

The report shows that the country’s largest federations saw a 1.7 percent drop in donors between 2000 and 2003, a 3.8 percent drop between 2004 and 2006, and another 3.8 percent decline in the 2006-09 period.

The Jewish Federations would not make public the entire report, which is being put together by the Federation Benchmarking Project and looks at 34 different fund-raising areas, including agency health, per capita total giving, and board growth.

But Andrew Pailer, the organization’s director of consulting, said the other findings show that the federations cannot keep doing business as usual.

“It shows that federations have to evolve,” he said. “They can’t do the same things the same way.”

Collectively, the 157 Jewish federations in North America raise just under $1 billion per year through their annual campaigns and another $1.5 billion to $2 billion through endowments, donor-advised funds, and other special campaigns.

Pailer said the recession has nothing to do with the federations’ longstanding problems — a sentiment with which the leader of one of the country’s largest federations agreed.

“It is not a good sign,” Barry Shrage, the CEO of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, said of the apparent donor loss. “But nobody knows exactly what to do with it. It is not related to the recession. It’s not related to the quality of the federation.”

While much of the General Assembly focused on building Jewish identity among the young and boosting the Jewish service learning movement, a number of insiders said the annual conference missed the mark by not focusing more on helping federations figure out their own identities and how to tell their stories better.

“It was a missed opportunity,” Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, told JTA.

Sanderson said the federations are experiencing an identity crisis.

“What do we stand for as a system? What is our story and how are we telling it? Is it effective and clear? We don’t have a strong story right now,” he said.

Shrage agreed.

“If you call a person who didn’t grow up in the federation, what distinguishes you from the Friends of the IDF?” Shrage said. “What distinguishes you from the Friends of the IDF is that you don’t have as exciting a story that you can tell in 3 1/2 minutes.”

The GA held several sessions on dealing with the recession and growing needs, but the sessions were sparsely attended. Instead, participants chose to attend sessions focused on Jewish identity issues.

In Boston, Shrage’s federation is tackling the challenge of engaging the young with a complicated plan that will allow the philanthropy to better engage large donors with the hope that the programs they build one day will attract new donors. Shrage said the plan has been slowed significantly by the recession.

“The question is how do you use new technologies to get to the masses, the hearts and minds of the Jewish people that don’t have any idea of what you are as a federation?” Shrage said. “It hasn’t gotten worse due to the recession. I think it is a big, long-range problem, which will determine whether the federations will be mainly the domain of the people who give over $10,000 or continue to have the possibility of being a broadly based movement.”

Shrage said that if federations like Boston’s cannot get their affiliate organizations and local synagogues to help more in reaching out to the grass roots to tell the federation’s story, the federation system may not be able to sustain itself in its current form.

JTA Wire Service


Local delegates laud this year’s GA

Jay Feinberg wins Jewish Community Hero contest

Jay Feinberg, founder of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, has been tapped as the Jewish Community Hero.

The announcement was made Tuesday in New Orleans at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which sponsored the online competition.

A panel of judges selected Feinberg, 42, of Boca Raton, Fla., from among five finalists for the $25,000 Jewish Federations grant awarded to the winner. More than 300,000 people cast online votes to determine the 20 semifinalists; the panel whittled the list to five before choosing Feinberg.

The other finalists — Mordechai Tokarsky, Dmitriy Salita, Stephen Kutner, and Zvi Gluck — will receive $1,000 Jewish Federations grants.

Candidates were nominated for their exceptional qualities and commitment in line with the mission of Jewish Federations, strengthening the Jewish community, and the ideals of tikkun olam, or repair of the world.

Feinberg founded Gift of Life in 1991 to search for a bone marrow donor after being diagnosed with leukemia, and found his match in 1995. He has developed the organization into a major public registry for bone marrow, blood stem cell, and umbilical cord blood.

Gift of Life is a world leader in its field, and has facilitated many life-saving transplants, particularly among those stricken with leukemia and lymphoma.

This was the second Jewish Community Hero campaign sponsored by Jewish Federations.


Local delegates laud this year’s GA

UJA-NNJ GA delegation members, from left, Stuart Himmelfarb, Richard and Allyn Michaelson, Paula Shaiman, David and Gale S. Bindelglass, David Goodman, Rochelle Shoretz, Alan and Karen Scharfstein, Carol and Alan Silberstein, David Gad-Harf, Joan Krieger, two Hillel students, and Leonard Cole, at a reception Sunday night. Courtesy Stuart Himmelfarb

Thousands of Jewish communal leaders from around the world gathered earlier this week in New Orleans for the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, the biggest pow-wow of Jewish leaders in the world.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey sent a 17-member delegation, led by co-chairs Gale S. and David Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes. The event was headlined by speeches from Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who both spoke of the strong U.S.-Israel relationship, but the conference centered on cultivating the next generation of Jewish leaders, and the local participants felt the push to get the younger leaders involved.

“The real focus of this year’s GA was on youth, the next generation,” said Alan Scharfstein, president of UJA-NNJ, who noted that more than 700 college students attended the conference through Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. “It was the youngest GA that I can certainly remember.”

“It just gave a new amount of added energy to the GA,” said David Gad-Harf, UJA-NNJ’s associate executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Leonard Cole, a Ridgewood resident who is a past chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a local proponent of Birthright Israel, praised the GA’s efforts to reach out to the younger leaders.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a strong push toward engagement of this younger generation,” he said.

The new push can also be seen through the lens of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which recently completed a strategic plan to shift its focus from promoting aliyah to enhancing Jewish identity in the diaspora.

“Certainly aliyah is an important part of the Jewish Agency’s mission,” Cole said, “though they understand that the greater danger to the Jewish people is assimilation and easier opportunities for Jews to leave the fold. Now it’s going to be a focus of the Jewish Agency to strengthen and enhance the Jewish identity of Jews everywhere.”

Natan Sharansky, chair of JAFI and a former Soviet dissident who spent years in Soviet prison, addressed the UJA-NNJ contingent during a private meeting, for the second year in a row.

“All of us recognized the honor and sense of privilege to be sitting in a room with this transcendent figure,” Cole said.

“It was moving,” Gad-Harf said, “how Sharansky articulated a vision of the future of the Jewish Agency and the role it will be playing to create a deeper sense of Jewish identity for young Jews and how that is essential to the future of the Jewish people.”

During his plenary speech, Netanyahu spoke strongly about the need for a “credible military threat” against Iran in order for any negotiations about its nuclear ambitions to bear fruit.

“He was very focused and very outspoken on the dangers of Iran and trying to make sure that the world takes Iran as seriously as Israel does in terms of the threat it creates, not only for Israel but for stability in the region and beyond,” Scharfstein said.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, had three goals, which Netanyahu touched upon, said Stuart Himmelfarb, chief marketing officer and director of its Berrie Fellows Leadership Program: To understand perils, to take advantage of all opportunities, and to forge unity within the Jewish people and the Jewish community.

“Netanyahu really addressed all three of those,” Himmelfarb said. “He spoke about the perils posed by Iran and the need for a coordinated response.”

When Netanyahu turned to the topic of the peace process with the Palestinians, he said that Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to a Palestinian state and the Palestinians need to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a Jewish state, Himmelfarb reported.

Several Israeli policies concerning conversions, the loyalty oath, and religious equality have ruffled feathers in the diaspora lately.

“He made it clear that every Jew is welcome in Israel,” Himmelfarb said, adding that he thought Netanyahu was alluding to the Rotem bill in the Knesset that would redefine how Israel accepts conversions to Judaism. “He was just signaling his continued support for avoiding these kinds of divisive issues.”

Netanyahu has been a polarizing figure in Israel and the diaspora, but even those who disagree with his political stance praised his speech.

“Whether you agree or disagree with his views, I don’t think there’s a head of state on the planet today who can command the podium the way he does,” Gale Bindelglass said.

Netanyahu’s speech was not without controversy, as five protesters stood up at different points during the speech, shouting that Israel’s own actions contribute to the country’s potential delegitimization.

“It’s unfortunate people put the emphasis on five hecklers in a room with thousands of people,” said Scharfstein. “He was truly eloquent in making Israel’s case, both for Iran and the other subject that was very heavily discussed at the GA: the attempt to delegitimize Israel.”

The protesters did not accomplish anything, Himmelfarb said.

“It was really just a disruption that had no purpose,” he said. “I don’t think it helped in any way get any new items on the agenda.”

Biden, who addressed the GA separately from Netanyahu, spoke about the strong bond between the United States and Israel and his own relationship with the Jewish state dating back to the 1970s.

“I really thought Biden went out of his way to say the right things with energy and emotion and reassure the audience that the Obama administration got it,” Himmelfarb said.

What Biden said was not as important as the message he sent just with his presence at the GA, Gad-Harf said.
“His presence and the word of support that he presented to us were very meaningful.”

What separated this year’s GA from others, according to Gad-Harf, were the 1,500 attendees doing community service around the city on Monday.

“It was one of the main reasons they brought the GA to New Orleans,” he said, “to both remember and celebrate the role that the Jewish community played in helping to restore New Orleans after Katrina, and to underscore the importance of community service as part of Jewish communal life.”

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


A primer on Palestinian statehood

Israeli soldiers scuffle with Palestinians during a demonstration near the west bank village of Beit Omar on Aug. 13. Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority in mid-September is expected to ask the U.N. Security Council to formally recognize it as a state.

Some analysts warn that such a request will set off a new paroxysm of violence in the west bank and Gaza, and perhaps even on Israel’s streets.

Here is a guide to what might happen, and what it might mean.

Q. What do the Palestinians want the United Nations to recognize?

A. The Palestinians want recognition of a “State of Palestine” in all of the west bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem. The west bank is part of the area originally designated for a “Palestinian Arab” state in the Nov. 29, 1947, U.N. partition resolution. It was seized by Jordan during Israel’s War of Independence and held by it until it was captured by Israel in the June 1967 Six-Day War. Today, it includes lands on which Jewish settlements now sit. The two halves of Jerusalem were effectively annexed by Israel, but the international community views it as occupied territory. (Jerusalem, under the 1947 resolution, was to be an international city, belonging to no individual state.) In total, more than 600,000 Jews reside in eastern Jerusalem and the west bank.

Q. What’s the legal process for becoming a state?

A. The U.N. Security Council’s approval is required to become a U.N. member state. The United States, which is one of the 15-member council’s five permanent, veto-wielding members, has promised to veto a Palestinian statehood resolution.

Q. Is there a way for the Palestinians to overcome a U.S. veto?

A. The Palestinians still could seek statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly. While a General Assembly vote in favor of Palestinian statehood would not carry the force of law, the passage of such a resolution would be highly symbolic and represent a significant public relations defeat for Israel.

Q. Is there any benefit short of full statehood recognition that the Palestinians can obtain at the United Nations?

A. Yes. The Palestinians already have non-member permanent observer status at the United Nations, which they obtained in 1974.

This time, the General Assembly could vote to recognize “Palestine” as a non-member U.N. state, which would put Palestinian U.N. membership on par with that of the Vatican. While being a non-member state would not give the Palestinians much more than they have now as a non-state observer, it would be another symbolic victory.

If the Palestinians can get a two-thirds majority in support of statehood in the General Assembly, they also could put forward a so-called Uniting for Peace resolution. This nonbinding, advisory resolution would provide legal cover to nations wanting to treat Palestine as a state – for example, allowing sanctions and lawsuits against Israel to go forward. The Uniting for Peace option was first used to circumvent a Soviet veto in the Security Council against action during the Korean War, and it was employed during the 1980s to protect countries that sanctioned apartheid South Africa from being sued under international trade laws.

Q. Why are the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations rather than negotiating directly with Israel?

A. The Palestinian leadership has eschewed renewed peace talks with Israel, either because Abbas believes that talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not produce desired results, or because Abbas believes he has more to gain by going to the international arena – or both.

Abbas essentially is gambling that the U.N. move will give him more leverage vis-à-vis Israel, making it more difficult for the Israelis to stick to their current negotiating positions and establishing the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations.

[Editor’s note: The question of whether to set the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations is semantic, not substantive. In fact, the lines are the starting point for all sides in the peace talks. Israel wants to see the lines redrawn to better accommodate its security needs. This would include retaining control over established west bank settlements. The Palestinians want the lines to remain what they were before the start of the Six-Day War.]

Q. What tools does Israel have to respond to the Palestinian bid?

A. Israel’s strategy now is trying to persuade as many nations as possible – as well as the Palestinians – that a U.N. vote favoring Palestinian statehood would set back the peace track. The argument is that it would make it less likely that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would succeed, forcing Israel to dig in its heels.

Beyond that, Israeli experts have warned, Israel may consider the unilateral Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition an abrogation of the Oslo Accords, which stipulated that the framework for resolution of the conflict would be negotiations between the two parties. If the Oslo Accords, which provides the basis for the limited autonomy the Palestinians currently have in the west bank, are nullified, Israel may re-occupy portions of the west bank from which its forces have withdrawn, end security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money it collects on behalf of the PA.

Q. What are some of the other possible negative consequences for the Palestinians of statehood recognition?

A. The U.S. Congress has threatened to ban assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it pursues recognition of statehood at the United Nations. That could cost the Palestinians as much as $500 million annually, potentially crippling the Palestinian government.

Q. What happens on the day after the U.N. vote?

A. This is not clear. The Palestinian leadership does not seem to have a plan. The Palestinian public is expected to stage mass demonstrations. Israel is preparing for a host of worst-case scenarios, including violence.

If the United Nations does endorse Palestinian statehood in some form, it will be seen as a public relations victory for the Palestinians. In the absence of progress on the ground, however, a U.N. vote could set off popular Palestinian protests against Israel that could escalate into another Palestinian intifada.

It is possible that a favorable U.N. vote will send Palestinians marching on Israeli settlements and military positions much like Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon marched on Israel’s borders in mid-May.

It is also possible a vote on statehood would unleash a wave of violence in the Palestinian street not seen since the second intifada waned in 2004.

Such violence, however, could come at a high cost. The relative absence of Palestinian terrorism in recent years has enabled the Palestinians to rally considerable support to their cause, raise their GDP, and improve the quality of life in the west bank. All this could be lost.

That may leave the Palestinians and Israel back where they began: at a standstill. JTA Wire Service

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