WASHINGTON (Feb. 6)
The United States cannot accept Israeli insistence on longterm control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip if it wants to avoid having to send U.S. troops back to the Middle East once the Persian Gulf war is ended, an influential congressman said Tuesday night.
David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, rejected “recent talk that the West Bank and Gaza can now belong to the Israelis for 50 years.”
Such talk “is dangerous nonsense and cannot be tolerated by any American government determined to see to it that the blood of its citizens will never again be shed on Middle East battlefields,” Obey said in a speech here to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The United States has “a right to demand of Israel one very big thing: a recognition of the right and necessity of the Palestinian people to have their own homeland on a major portion of the land that constitutes the West Bank and Gaza,” Obey said.
“Israel obviously has a right to insist in return a similar unequivocal recognition of their rights by the Palestinians,” he said.
“Every Arab nation must in the end be willing to explicitly recognize Israel and her legitimate security requirements,” Obey said. “They must be willing to sit down in direct negotiations with Israel, under U.S. Soviet auspices or any other arrangement that works to conclude the unfinished work of the Camp David process.”
A PREMATURE CALL FOR CONCESSIONS
Reacting to the speech, a top American Jewish organizational leader said it was unfortunate that Obey was already speaking of Israeli concessions before Arab-Israeli negotiations had even begun.
The Gulf war “underscores that a condition for meaningful peace is the recognition by the Arab states of Israel and the determination that they will live in peace with Israel,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Hoenlein said Obey was not saying anything he had not said before, and the Jewish leader drew comfort from the fact that Obey did not call for a Palestinian state, but merely a “homeland.”
Obey was correct in urging Arab countries to recognize and enter into negotiations with Israel, Hoenlein said. But it should be left for negotiations to resolve all the issues, including the Palestinian question, he said.
But Hoenlein disagreed with Obey’s statement that Israelis have “miscalculated by ignoring the fact that changes in technology have dramatically eroded the value of distance and territory in preserving security.”
There are those who believe Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait demonstrates the “strategic importance of territory,” and that a buffer area is even more important now, Hoenlein said.
He added that if Kuwait had maintained such a buffer, it may have had more time to organize a defense against the Iraqi attack last Aug. 2.
Obey’s subcommittee originates foreign aid appropriations, and in the past he has supported aid to Israel, while criticizing some of its policies.
But last year he joined in the unsuccessful proposal originated by Senate Minority leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) to cut funds to the major recipients of U.S. aid, including Israel.
NO NEW AID BEFORE RE-EVALUATION
In his speech, Obey appeared to differ with those who believe that aid to Israel and other Middle East countries will have to be increased as a result of the Gulf war.
No new funds should go to the Middle East until “those dollars are provided in the context of a sweeping re-evaluation of basic policy,” by the United States, the European countries, the Arab states and Israel, he said.
Obey also expressed disapproval of plans to send more arms to the region once the Gulf war ends. “I don’t happen to believe that the policy of America ought to be to reload everybody’s gun in the region,” he said.
“When it’s over, our policy ought to be to dramatically scale back arms to the region and to deny access to our markets to any country which does not vigorously cooperate in effectively enforcing that policy.”
The latter statement seemed to be aimed at European countries that have supplied arms to Iraq.