The Forward article (referenced below) on the "failure" of dovish groups to get Congress to call for an "immediate" cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has the people who actually wrote the resolution baffled.
Insiders are telling JTA that, first of all, the resolutions – both in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate – emerged in-house, that is, the first drafts came from congressional staffers. (This is relatively rare; It’s an open secret that outside groups are often the first drafters of legislation; in Israel’s case, most often, legislation is initiated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.)
This was because the drafters wanted workable legislation that would not bind Congress to one outcome or another in a very fluid situation. There is also the reality of dealing with the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, which is pledged to sustaining Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Forward story confirms this, but derails when it comes to the influence of the peace groups, and this is why it’s important to know that the legislation was already drafted by the time it was sent to AIPAC for review; the drafters also sent it to the peace groups and according to one Hill insider, the subsequent relatively modest modifications were 50 percent AIPAC and 50 percent Americans for Peace Now.
Simultaneously submitting the resolution to AIPAC and APN is in itself something of a coup for the dovish groups.
More to the point, the dovish groups are actually quite pleased with the legislation. Look at the legislation and the talking points distributed by AIPAC and APN, and you can see why:
Here’s AIPAC’s "ask" from an action alert sent to its activists on Dec. 30, asking them to call their Congress members:
Israel’s full withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, a move strongly backed by the United States, was an effort to reduce violence and lay the groundwork for a future Palestinian state.
Instead of seizing this historic opportunity to build a better life for the people of Gaza, Hamas and other terrorist groups have turned the area into a launching pad for more than 6,300 rocket and mortar attacks against Israel since the summer of 2005.
And here’s the language in the House resolution passed Friday:
Whereas Hamas has launched thousands of rockets and mortars against Israeli population centers since 2001, and has launched more than 6,000 such rockets and mortars since Israel withdrew its civilian population and its military from Gaza in 2005…
Now here’s APN ask from talking points it distributed on the Hill on Jan. 5:
Statements supportive of Israel must therefore include:
– a clear recognition that a ceasefire is in the vital interests of both Israel and America;
– an urgent call for the Bush Administration to show real leadership and spare no effort to work with Israel, regional parties, and other members of the international community to establish a new ceasefire; and
– a demand that any new ceasefire be accompanied by efforts to lay the groundwork for the kind of changes on the ground and the establishment of a political process that can avoid a return to military action in the future.
And here, again, is the legislation, which
encourages the Administration to work actively to support a durable and sustainable cease-fire in Gaza , as soon as possible, that prevents Hamas from retaining or rebuilding its terrorist infrastructure, including the capability to launch rockets and mortars against Israel, and thereby allowing for the long-term improvement of daily living conditions for the people of Gaza;
reiterates its strong support for a just and sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict achieved through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in order to ensure the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and a viable, independent, and democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel.
So everyone’s happy. Really.
Here’s Josh Block, AIPAC’s spokesman:
AIPAC strongly supports this important action by the House, which backs Israel’s right to self-defense, calls for American leadership to secure a durable and sustainable diplomatic outcome that ends smuggling of arms into Gaza and Hamas attacks on Israel, and expresses strong support for the peace process."
And here’s Debra DeLee, APN’s president:
We hope that the strong statement of Congressional support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process contained in these resolutions signals Congress’ readiness to support President-elect Barack Obama in launching a new era of sustained, serious, U.S.-led efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace and to establish two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and with security.”
And here’s J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami:
Since the first days of the crisis in Gaza, J Street has consistently called for strong American leadership to reach a ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel, institutes an effective mechanism to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, and lifts the blockade of Gaza. Since J Street’s founding, we have consistently advocated for active American diplomacy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We support Congressional action that endorses these aims.
One more point: Much is made in the Forward story about how the resolutions avoided calling for an "immediate" cease-fire. But only two groups, J Street and the Israel Policy Forum used the word; APN and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom did not.
UPDATE: My last point – about differences on the call for an "immediate" cease-fire – is perhaps more significant than making it the last point deserves. A couple of readers have contacted me, and in a way, I may have made the same error as the Forward article: lumping all the "dovish" groups together.
Real differences appear to be emerging among the four groups, and it’s not insignificant that APN’s
endorsement of praise for the resolutions is robust (spokesman Ori Nir straight out calls it "our achievement") while J Street’s statement seems to melt on contact, as Glenn Greenwald points out.
And its also significant that the congressional sources I spoke to would begin by speaking broadly of the dovish groups – but when it came to specifics, cited APN’s activism.
In other words, APN did not shoot for the moon, and got what it asked for. It’s achievement here is unabashed.
And J Street, perhaps, by demanding "immediate" action, learned a lesson about the perfect being the enemy of the good.
UPDATE II: The Forward published a follow-up to its story which walks back from its earlier claim that this was a loss for the dovish groups:
The resolutions not only demonstrated once again the wall-to-wall support Israel enjoys among Capitol Hill lawmakers, but also managed unite a wide spectrum of advocacy groups in praising congressional actions.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse, issued statements applauding the passage of the resolutions. “While Israel is forced to defend its citizens from those who aim to destroy her, America has, as always, remained a voice of strength and reason,” an Aipac statement read. The congressional resolutions express “vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel” and demand that Hamas end rocket attacks against Israel.
Dovish Jewish groups, while more cautious in their reaction, also welcomed the congressional outcome, since it included a mention of the need for a cease-fire “as soon as possible” and for the advancement of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.