In the candidates’ words

DEARBORN, Mich., Oct. 22 (JTA) — Most of the eight Democratic candidates for president who gave speeches at an Arab American Institute conference over the weekend appealed to the constituency’s opposition to the Iraq war and the USA Patriot Act. The Israeli-Palestinian issue proved more problematic, with candidates hewing to policies that fell well short of the “get tough on Israel” stance the Arab American Institute advocates. Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.) hardly mentioned Israel, except to condemn President Bush for withdrawing from the conflict. Nonetheless, there were nuanced differences among the other candidates. Here are some excerpts. • Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.): “Several weeks ago, as many of you know, I had a disagreement with one of the other candidates for the Democratic nomination, Howard Dean, about something he said. He said that America should not take sides between Israelis and Palestinians. In some sense it mirrored something I’ve always said myself, which is America surely can be both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. But I challenged him for this reason — because if we believe, as I do, that our foreign policy is at its best when it is based first on our values and second on our strategic interests, then America does have a special relationship with Israel, based on its democratic values and political system, and our strong strategic alliance.” • Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio): “We must use our considerable influence with Israel to ask Israel to stop building walls, ask Israel to tear down the walls, ask Israel to not participate in the building of any new settlements, because we have to recognize that in order to achieve peace we must stop anything that smacks of isolation, or of creating conditions which will make it that much more difficult to achieve a peaceful agreement.”• Sen. John Kerry (Mass.): “No peace process will ever be successful unless Israelis and Palestinians are committed to that process and willing to take steps that each side finds difficult. Palestinian leaders must bring an end to the violence against Israelis and find a way, with the help of others, to rein in militant groups. Israel must be prepared to meet its obligations, as outlined in the Bush administration’s ‘road map,’ and in the Mitchell Plan, with respect to settlements. The absence of movement on these two critical issues only serves to convince each side that the other is not really serious about peace. And I know how disheartened Palestinians are by the Israeli government’s decision to build a barrier off the ‘Green Line,’ cutting deeply into Palestinian areas. We do not need another barrier to peace. Provocative and counterproductive measures only harm Israel’s security over the long term, they increase hardships to the Palestinian people and they make the process of negotiating an eventual settlement that much harder. There is nothing to be gained in an endless cycle of violence and reprisals that only point in a downward direction.” • Gen. Wesley Clark was sick with flu and had his speech read by proxy: “Israel is the key U.S. ally in the region and it does have the right to defend itself, including going after terrorists.” • Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean addressed several topics. On terrorism: “Eighty percent of the Palestinians live below the poverty line, and every Israeli parent worries about their child coming home.” On the security fence: “I’m concerned about the course of the wall. I need to know more about it. It’s a short term measure of the difficulties the Israelis face in dealing with terror.” • Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun: “Certainly the Palestinian people have the right to choose their own leadership, and to bring into the room whoever they choose . . . ” “There’s no question but that the destiny — they have shared destinies, in regards to the region, in regards to resources such as water, in regards to the economy, and so that shared destiny ought to be able to provide the basis upon which there can be some progress beyond what we’ve seen before.” When pressed on the security fence, Braun said: “You know, the United States can no more make Israel take down the wall than it could make the Palestinians not send Yasser Arafat to the negotiations. I mean, the fact of the matter is these are issues that have to be worked out on the ground. I don’t think there’s anything we can do to go in there and just force them to take it down. The wall is a provocation, there’s no question about it. It is a horrible idea, no question about it. It really — I don’t think anybody has any doubts about that. But, the question is, what as U.S. president can you do? Well, you can use the bully pulpit to encourage the parties to come together, to finally work out these issues, because certainly there are enough needs on the ground, the people have needs, that these war-mongering, and this continuing of throwing things at each other, I mean, provocations, that’s what I meant to say, the continuing provocations will not solve.” • Former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot, who chairs the Bush re-election campaign: “The president has made it plain throughout the course of his term that he is committed to the road map for peace in the Middle East. He is committed to an independent Palestinian state, and he has on more than one occasion spoken to the issues of violence that have visited Palestinians and the people of Israel, throughout a long and very difficult period of time. He is setting about to provide the leadership needed and necessary, for people, individual people, in that region to seize the moment, and the opportunity with assistance from the international community to once and for all bring peace and stability to that part of the world.” “There is a firm commitment to the road map to peace in the Middle East, in Israel, and in reference to all of the issues confronting Israelis and Palestinians. In reference to the wall, the president has said that the establishment of a wall is no way to build a relationship that hopes for and seeks the opportunity for peace. In addition to that particular issue, he has also commented upon the needed, and necessary, and inescapable discussion that must surround the settlement question all throughout the Palestinian region.”

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