JERUSALEM (May. 25)
U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is stirring controversy in Israel.
Last week, before he departed for Israel, the Georgia Republican said he would visit the site of the future U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, provoking criticism from Palestinian officials who said the visit would undermine their efforts to secure part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
On Monday, Gingrich tackled a different aspect of the peace process, saying the U.S. Congress would consider giving Israel $1 billion in emergency aid to help cover the costs of a further Israeli redeployment in the West Bank.
“I think that on the basis of an emergency situation, I would certainly consider it. If we reach a peace agreement, most Americans would want to be supportive and helpful,” Gingrich told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that he had asked the United States for the $1 billion, which would be used to build bypass roads and finance the dismantling of army bases in the event of a redeployment.
The Clinton administration has been pressing Israel to accept its proposal for a further redeployment from 13 percent of the West Bank in order to break a nearly 15-month deadlock in negotiations with the Palestinians.
While the Palestinian Authority has accepted the proposal, which also calls for security guarantees on its part, Israel has stated that the size of the redeployment is unacceptable.
Gingrich, who is visiting Israel as head of a Congressional delegation honoring the Jewish state on its 50th anniversary, said Monday that Washington should not try to put pressure on either Israel or the Palestinian Authority.
“I think it’s up to two neighbors to have a negotiation, with the United States as a friend and a facilitator. But I don’t think we should be a third party. I think that would be a mistake,” he told reporters.
Gingrich and other members of the congressional delegation have adopted the stance often reiterated by Netanyahu — that Israel alone should determine how its security needs would affect the extent of the redeployment.
This has drawn the ire of Palestinian officials, who say the legislators have no place in the peace process and that their statements are only aimed at winning Jewish votes back home.
When he arrived in Israel over the weekend, Gingrich reaffirmed his support for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
But he backed off from his earlier vow to visit the site of the proposed embassy after he received a request from the White House and State Department to avoid the visit because of concern that it might spark violent Palestinian protests.
On Monday, Gingrich toured Jerusalem with Mayor Ehud Olmert, driving by, but not stopping at, the proposed location for the American embassy.
A day earlier, Israel staged its largest military parade in years to mark the capture of eastern Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Some 30,000 people took part in the annual Jerusalem Day commemorations, which also included memorial ceremonies for the soldiers who died during the capture of the city in 1967.
Netanyahu, speaking at a memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers, reiterated that Israel would never give up sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem or the pre- 1967 borders.
“Israel will never return to indefensible borders, with its back to the sea, and Jerusalem will never again be divided,” he said.
Thousands of soldiers, veterans and military vehicles took part in the Jerusalem Day procession, which made its way from the walls of the Old City to a park near the Knesset.
Thousands of Israelis participated, waving flags, dancing in the streets and filling the sidewalks to watch the colorful procession, made more elaborate this year in honor of Israel’s jubilee.
The show of military prowess during the celebrations was condemned by Palestinian and Jordanian officials, who said the ceremonies were a provocation.
Scattered scuffles were reported in the Old City between Palestinians and Israeli marchers.