WASHINGTON (May. 19)
U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is promising to spark some fireworks when he heads to Israel this week.
He said this week that he plans to visit the site of the future U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and declare that it is time to break ground.
Gingrich and Democratic Majority leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) was slated to lead a congressional delegation to Israel later this week in celebration of its 50th anniversary.
Speaking to pro-Israel activists on the front steps of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Gingrich said, “The time has come to break the ground, to build the building and expect that self-determination means that the people of Israel get to decide where their government sits.”
In a show of support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Clinton administration, however, has said that moving the embassy now would complicate the peace process.
“The people of Israel,” he added, “get to ask where our ambassador should be. And they have chosen Jerusalem, and we should be appropriately responsive.”
In a conference call with Jewish journalists on Tuesday, Gingrich said that during the trip to Israel, the congressional delegation would be “looking at missile defenses, security concerns and how to create a better future.”
In addition to meetings with top Israeli officials, he said he was attempting to set up a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
A critic of the Clinton administration’s efforts to push a U.S. plan to revive the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Gingrich denounced what he termed U.S. pressure tactics and emphasized that Israel should be allowed to decide its own future.
“The right of self-determination is what makes the State of Israel unique in the last 2,000 years of Jewish history, and that right of self-determination has to be defended at all costs — even against the best intentions of some of Israel’s friends, including the United States,” Gingrich told the crowd of activists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who spent the day lobbying members of Congress on the peace process, foreign aid to Israel and efforts to contain Iran.