House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) would strongly support the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if and when the issue comes to the floor of the House of Representatives.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Gingrich said it was Israel’s right to determine where its capital should be and it was America’s duty, as Israel’s ally, to accept that determination and act accordingly.
He noted that this had been his position for more than a decade, implying that there was no question of his having recently adopted the stance on Jerusalem in order to curry favor with Jewish voters at home.
In his interview over the weekend with Ha’aretz reporter Akiva Eldar, Gingrich displayed detailed knowledge of Middle East issues. A portion of the interview aired Sunday night on Israeli television.
On the subject of deploying American peacekeeping troops to the Golan Heights as part of an eventual Israeli-Syrian peace treaty, Gingrich said he tended to support the idea. But he said his support would come only after a careful examination and debate of all the possible scenarios, including the worst-case scenario of a war breaking out between Israel and Syria.
Gingrich cited the successful experience of American personnel who have been stationed in take Sinai to enforce the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
But in considering the Golan, Gingrich said, Americans would be asking two tough questions: the threat of terror attacks, particularly in light of the September 1983 suicide car bombing of a U.S. marine base near Beirut that killed 241 American soldiers; and the way events might unfold in case of a military escalation in the region.
Gingrich also stressed the dangers posed by fundamentalist Iran – both as a source and supporter of international terror and as a country bent on attaining nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the speaker said that peace with Syria was important in order for the world to focus on the dangers emanating from Teheran.
“I would put that at the head of the list of problems that the U.S. needs to resolve,” Gingrich said, referring to the Iranian threat.
On the issue of foreign aid, Gingrich said it was hard for him to see why the United States would wish to help Syria.
Syrian President Hafez “Assad is a dictator, and it’s hard to point to any real change in Syria,” he noted.
Gingrich said that while Syria would likely be the last Arab state to make peace with Israel, Egypt had been the first – and therefore merited continued U.S. aid.
He said that Jordan was also likely to continue receiving U.S. aid because, despite supporting Iraq in the 1992 Persian Gulf War, the Hashemite Kingdom was a longtime American friend in the region. Regarding aid to the Palestinians, Gingrich said that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had persuaded him that this was essential – and that he tended to go along with that.
Aid to Israel was also likely to continue, despite the new efforts to balance the budget, Gingrich said.
But at the same time, he urged Israel to press ahead with privatization and greater competitiveness in its economy.