Lobbying Against Interim Statehood
As President George W. Bush struggled to put together yet another vision for ending Israeli-Palestinian violence and providing what he has called a political “horizon” for the Palestinians, Israel’s friends in Congress scrambled to put the brakes on the expected administration initiative.
With a big boost from pro-Israel groups, lawmakers zeroed in on one issue: preventing administration support for an interim Palestinian state.
Lobbying has been fierce on the other side, too, with a parade of Arab and Muslim leaders demanding that Bush impose a timetable for the quick creation of such a state even before an end to the current violence.
But Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester), reflecting the view of many colleagues, expressed “serious concern” about reports that the administration was considering an interim Palestinian state with
Arafat at the helm.
“Such a plan seemingly contradicts the spirit of your statements indicating that you lack confidence in the Palestinian leadership, and that you feel the conditions for a peace summit do not exist,” she said.
A U.S.-imposed timetable for even partial statehood, she said, “would have the effect of rewarding the terrorism and violence which the Palestinian Authority continues to perpetrate against Israel.”
That argument was grimly punctuated on Tuesday, when a suicide bombing that killed 19 in Jerusalem added yet another complication to the administration’s efforts to recalibrate U.S. policy.
Other lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx), weighed in with strong criticisms of Arafat, although the harshest words came from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who told the San Jose Mercury News that the Palestinian Authority, “which is corrupt and cavorts with terror … is not the basis for a Palestinian state moving forward.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), while stating that it does not oppose the concept of Palestinian statehood, said in a statement that the president should reject pressure for timelines and for an interim state.
Jewish leaders said the administration is trying to walk a diplomatic tightrope.
“They have been trying to craft a proposal that reflects some of the realities of the situation — but which also will build bridges, and not result in outright rejections by the parties themselves,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League.
But with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians all rejecting portions of the rumored U.S. plan even before it was completely formulated, finding that balance will be a daunting challenge, he said.
“The administration is under tremendous pressure to do something,” said a staffer for a strongly pro-Israel House member. “What they seem to be looking for are relatively safe proposals that won’t send any of the parties running. Unfortunately, in the current environment there are no safe proposals.”
Still No Embassy Move
Jewish leaders in Washington were playing a guessing game this week over President George W. Bush’s new Mideast initiative. But on Monday the president took one perfectly predictable action: He once again deferred any action on moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The move is mandated by a 1995 law. But the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act included provisions giving the president the right to issue six-month waivers for reasons of national security.
Since then, waivers have been issued like clockwork — first because former President Bill Clinton did not want an angry Arab reaction disrupting negotiations that seemed on the verge of success, then by Bush, who worries that any action on the embassy would make it even harder for Washington to broker an end to a Palestinian terror campaign and harsh Israeli retaliation.
Bush, who promised to start the embassy move the day after his inauguration, insisted in the official waiver announcement that “my administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”
Pro-Israel groups, preoccupied by the expected presidential statement on the Middle East, had nothing to say about the latest delay.
Black Caucus, Jewish rift
A prominent New York rabbi is hoping to heal a growing rift between the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Jewish organizations over U.S. Mideast policy..
Strains have grown deeper recently, because one prominent CBC member has been targeted for defeat by pro-Israel political funders in this year’s congressional elections.
But the overall state of black-Jewish cooperation in Congress is much better than several high-profile conflicts over Israel would suggest, according to Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
This week the group was due on Capitol Hill for a reception intended to shine a spotlight on what Rabbi Schneier said is a relationship in which “cooperation remains the defining element.”
Rabbi Schneier conceded that criticism of Israel by some members of the Black Caucus has angered Jewish organizations. He said there may be a growing generation gap between black members who remember the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the Jewish role in that fight, and younger members.
“The older members have been sensitized to the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people,” he said. “It’s the younger members who do not have that historical reference. So it is imperative that the Jewish community institutionally develop and foster stronger relations with the younger members of the Black Caucus.”
Long-simmering conflicts have broken out into the open as the 2002 congressional contests heat up.
Pro-Israel groups are actively helping fund a Democratic challenge of Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.); Arab-American and Muslim groups are rallying behind the five-term incumbent, who faces a June 25 runoff.
In an interview with the official Nation of Islam newsletter, Hilliard referred to a “vendetta against me because I don’t go along with the Middle East situation and the role America plays in the Middle East.”
Pro-Israel activists are also watching with active interest as Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) fends off a tough challenge.
Black Caucus members are reportedly angry that pro-Israel groups are working to defeat the African-American critics of Israel — but paying scant attention to several white Democrats who have been just as critical, including Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who is locked in a battle with another incumbent Democrat, Rep. Lynn Rivers, thanks to congressional redistricting.
But a longtime pro-Israel lobbyist said that for years, pro-Israel groups held back criticisms of black members because they were afraid to disrupt black-Jewish relations.
“Hilliard may represent the first time the pro-Israel groups have actually gone after a black member, even though many members of the Black Caucus have made negative comments about Israel,” this source said.