Jerome M. Segal formed JPL in 1989 in order to give a voice in Congress and the administration to advocates of two states. JPL is predicated on the belief that American Jews should approach their government not as advocates for the standing Israeli government, but with their own conception of how the U.S. could most effectively contribute to resolution of the conflict.
Fifty rabbis endorsed the founding statement:
Up to now, a single lobbying organization has presented itself as speaking for the Jewish community. Their view of what is to be “pro-Israel” is to give largely uncritical support for any actions of any Israeli government. We have a different conception.
We believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a conflict between two nationalisms, which have sought their fulfillment within the same piece of territory. We believe that a lasting resolution of this conflict can only be achieved if each party to the conflict acknowledges the other as having the same rights that it claims for itself.
Thus, the Jewish Peace Lobby on the one hand supports Israel and on the other hand affirms the equal right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza, which would live at peace with Israel.
From 1989 to 2000, JPL functioned as a 501(c)(4) lobby, meeting with Congressional members both in Washington, D.C and in home districts. Their positions – the two-state solution, negotiations with the PLO, sharing Jerusalem, and using aid to Israel as leverage in bringing a halt to settlement expansion – were on the margins of what was viewed as legitimate.
JPL’s very first legislative proposal was that 1% of U.S. economic aid to Israel be set aside to promote cooperative projects between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of humanizing “the other.” After being told that the idea of earmarking even 1% of foreign aid to Israel for this purpose was a total “non-starter,” they lobbied for additional monies to be allocated for what became known as the Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation Project (PIC). JPL subsequently worked with the State Department to develop the implementation plan.
(PIC) became a regular part of U.S. efforts to promote an end to the conflict, funding hundreds of distinct projects, each of which is jointly designed and implemented by Israelis and Palestinians. What started as the PIC program has grown into the Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation grants program, which operates worldwide. In FY 2012 the US Government program channeled $12 million to such efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.
Over time, JPL transformed from an alternative Jewish lobby into an engaged think tank. Building on Segal’s book, Negotiating Jerusalem, the organization turned its focus to the development of new ideas for ending the conflict, and the presentation of those ideas to top policy makers in the U.S., Israel, and Palestine. JPL became increasingly engaged in “out of the box” policy development. JPL maintains contact with American, Israeli and Palestinian officials engaged in peace negotiations, introducing new ideas for resolving the conflict.
In 1999, JPL launched an effort to educate the American Jewish community about the necessity of sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians in order to ensure peace. Over the course of the year they held conversations with over 1,000 rabbis, and some 300 signed a public statement to that effect. The statement, which surprised the American Jewish establishment, was covered in the New York Times and the Israeli press.