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America Decides 2004 in Their Own Words: Candidates Woo Arab American Constituency

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.

Nonetheless, there were nuanced differences among the other candidates. Here are some excerpts.

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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