NEW YORK (Jul. 25)
The new majority whip of the House of Representatives told a Jewish audience here Monday that he does not “see any slippage in support” for Israel in the House, especially in the key Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees.
But along with warm words of praise for Israel, Rep. William Gray (D-Pa.) gave hints that some legislators are concerned about the implications of the 19-month-old Palestinian uprising and the “lack of definition” in the Israeli government’s peace plan.
Speaking before the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Gray reported on his trip earlier this month to Egypt and Israel. He and a delegation of 12 other members of Congress met with Egyptian leaders in Cairo and Alexandria on July 1 and 2, and with Israeli leaders on July 3 and 4.
Gray said he and the other delegates were surprised to find the extent to which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was open to the Israeli peace plan.
The plan, reaffirmed by a Cabinet vote Sunday, calls for Palestinians in the administered territories to elect representatives to negotiate with Israel on the terms of an interim autonomy settlement and, eventually, the final status of the territories.
But, like many members of the House of Representatives, Mubarak remained concerned about the plan’s lack of specificity, Gray said.
NO ISRAELI ‘POLITICAL CONSENSUS’
Among the details Mubarak would like to see outlined are whether Israel plans to withdraw its troops from the territories during the elections and whether it would allow Palestinians to openly campaign for votes.
Gray himself had praise for the peace plan, saying he and the other congressional delegates see it as “an opportunity to move the peace process forward and begin a dialogue.”
He indicated, however, that their discussion with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir about the plan took place before the July 5 meeting of the Likud Central Committee, in which Shamir agreed to Likud hard-liners’ conditions for implementing the peace plan.
Gray called the results of Sunday’s meeting “good news” in that Shamir seemed to have endorsed the original plan, without the hard-line conditions.
But he said he is troubled that “there is no solid political consensus within Israel” and that members of Israel’s national unity government are “constantly looking over their political shoulders before risking any decisions.”
Gray was joined at the podium by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a member of the Middle East delegation, and Ronni Milo, Israel’s minister of environmental protection.
Milo, a Likud minister close to Shamir, said he was in the United States for meetings with “administration officials.”
Gray spoke at the law offices of Kenneth Bialkin, the former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Bialkin was elected Monday as president of the New York JCRC, succeeding Lester Pollack.