Congress Takes the Lead On Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed United States’ Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to Jerusalem with some words of warning: “You’re coming to the Middle East at a time when it’s undergoing a tremendous convulsion.” Netanyahu continued, “Probably nothing on this scale happened since the end of World War I, and during this time it’s particularly important to strengthen the security alliance between Israel and the United States…. I look forward to discussing with you in this meeting ways to do that. I think that’s important for our security and that’s important for peace.”
Panetta, who has known Netanyahu for decades, spoke of “the difficult challenges that face not only Israel but the United States as well. “The Secretary stressed America’s “continuing commitment to the security of Israel,” saying “We have always made a commitment to do everything we can to support the security of Israel and as the Secretary of Defense, I intend to continue that commitment. I think it’s important for us to say to this region that when it comes to the difficult issues we face we stand together to try to confront our difficult and common challenges.”
Due north of their conversation, virulent anti Semitism, virulently anti-Israeli – reared its head in Teheran. Helen Thomas’ psychological cohort, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad called for a solution to the question of peace in the Middle East saying “If the backers of the Zionist regime want to solve the issue… the solution is simple … everyone should go home.” Speaking at the ‘5th International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada’ in Teheran, representatives of more than twenty countries and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled chief of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, applauded his statement.
“Some poor people were brought to Palestine on the promise of security and jobs while they made Palestinian people into refugees… So now Palestinians should go home and those brought here should go to theirs,” he said. Clearly, the Iranian dictator has not done his history homework; hundreds of thousands of these “poor people” he cites were Jews expelled from the Arab lands of their birth. They found safe haven and opportunity only in Israel. They have not been offered a “right of return” to anywhere: their home is, unquestionably, Israel.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continued the tirade: “Any plan which would lead to the division of Palestine is unacceptable,” he said.”Any plan that would create two states … would be accepting a Zionist state in the land of Palestine.” Hamas leader Haniyeh, calling for the liberation of “Palestine” said “We will never surrender to the Zionist regime’s pressures.”
While the words of Khomeini and Haniyeh are no surprise, and his audience is an already committed “choir,” it is the Palestinian Authority – presenting itself as a responsible partner in peace negotiations – that must outright, audibly reject such statements. With the US Secretary of Defense visiting both Netanyahu and Abbas, will the Palestinian Authority secretary reject the statements of Teheran and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist? Can a government working “in partnership” with Hamas actually, honestly negotiate towards the establishment of peace and a two state solution?
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL,) Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently stated that “We stand at a critical juncture with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will inevitably have a major impact throughout the region….”
As the Administration has been slow to take action, and “because the Palestinians have been allowed to mobilize support, they will… (have, as of this writing) ask(ed) for explicit recognition of a Palestinian state.” To “minimize the damage,” the Congresswomen demanded that “Palestinian leaders:
– completely abandon their unilateral efforts to secure recognition as an independent state;
– tear up their agreements with Hamas;
– return to direct negotiations with Israel;
– stop anti-Israel incitement and begin preparing the Palestinian people for peace with Israel; and
– recognize Israel’s right to exist as a democratic, Jewish state.
In consequence of the PA’s response, Congress has taken action.” As Panetta arrived in Ramallah to meet with Abbas, Congress froze funding for several West Bank development projects- amounting to tens of millions of dollars. Defying Washington can be costly in Congress.
Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian economics minister, informed of the funding suspension said projects were “being put on hold for lack of funding.” Palestinian officials called the action “counterproductive to Mideast peace efforts.” He called the action “a blind bias against the Palestinian interests and will not help the efforts of the U.S. administration to resume negotiations.”
Administration representatives disagreed with Congressional actions saying the aid “is not only in the interest of the Palestinians, it’s in the U.S. interest and it’s also in the Israeli interest,” according to State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agreed, saying “this is no time to withhold those funds,” as he attempts to restart the negotiations towards a peace agreement.
Where is the direction of American policy on the Middle East to be determined? The Obama administration’s policies have raised strong questions in the Jewish political community, especially concerned with the President’s treatment of the Israeli Prime Minister. Congress, on the counterbalance, has received Netanyahu with enthusiasm and applause. A presidential election is looming, and “Signals”- including the election of a Republican congressman in New York’s heavily Jewish District 9 – are said to indicate disfavour with Washington’s Mid East policies.