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"Punish Palestinians" Bill Founders

"Punish Palestinians" Bill Founders, 15.05.06

ritics and admirers of the Walt-Mearsheimer Harvard study on the influence of pro-Israel lobby have had their day in court (or, more precisely, on the op-ed pages of the major American daily newspapers), not to mention a few hundred websites. There is no need here to go into detail about what is wrong with the report or what is right about it either.
There is one criticism, however, that does need mentioning here. It is the study's assumption that the pro-Israel lobby is a monolith and its name is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
But that is simply wrong. Other equally pro-Israel groups -- like Israel Policy Forum -- also do their share of advocacy. IPF, and other organizations -- left, right, and center -- are as pro-Israel as AIPAC. The difference comes in our respective views of what constitutes the best and most effective way to simultaneously support Israel and defend US interests in the Middle East.
IPF sees its role as advocating US policies that will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the goal being the realization of President Bush's vision of "two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security." For us, that is an easy call: both the United States and the Olmert government view the two-state solution as the alternative to a still too deadly status quo.
Professors Walt and Mearsheimer do credit IPF for our role in urging Secretary Rice to broker the Gaza crossings agreement (which she did with James Wolfensohn, and brilliantly) but then they say we backed off after criticism from more conservative pro-Israel organizations. We did not.
Right now, IPF is engaged in an effort to put the brakes on the Lantos-Ros-Lehtinen bill (HR 4681) which would make it nearly impossible for the United States to provide aid to non-Hamas Palestinians. It would also severely restrict the administration's ability to support Palestinian leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas who present (according to Prime Minister Olmert) the only viable alternative to Hamas.
Olmert wants Abbas strengthened. This bill would cut the legs out from Abbas which would serve neither American interests, nor Israel's, nor those of Palestinian moderates. In fact, the bill essentially treats Abbas and Hamas as if they were the same, thereby subverting any alternatives to Hamas.
Frankly, HR 4681 makes no sense.
In a way, this bill provides a test of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis. Does Congress make its decisions based on consideration of what will best advance our interests in the Middle East (including the security of Israel) or does it simply rubber stamp proposals pushed by organizations opposed to the so-called peace process?
The answer to that question, when we have it, may not be as damning as Walt-Mearsheimer might suggest. Even if Congress makes its decisions on the Middle East based on politics (i.e. campaign contributions and votes), that does not make issues related to the Middle East any different than most other issues acted on by Congress. As Senator John McCain says over and over again, Congress is dominated by special interests and nary a piece of legislation passes on which the votes are not affected by who is giving how much to who. To single out the Israel issue, as if it is somehow unique, is unfair. How about insurance issues? Drilling in Alaska? Prescription drugs? Tax policy?
Foreign policy issues are also affected by powerful lobbies. The influence of the oil lobby on American foreign policy is indisputable and few would argue that the policies it has successfully sold to the White House and Congress since World War II have been in the best interests of the United States, or of anyone other than the oil industry itself.
And how has the powerful auto manufacturers lobby advanced US interests by pushing for both lower fuel efficiency standards and special exemptions for gas-guzzling SUVs despite our ever growing dependence on foreign oil and the global warming catastrophe?
The pro-Israel lobby, and in this particular context I mean AIPAC, is not unique and, to its credit, its efforts do not put money in its own pockets, which is something one cannot say about any of the other lobbies to which I referred.
But it is indisputably a lobby and it does achieve its victories in Congress by using the techniques lobbies use.
How else to explain why a majority of Congress is likely to vote in favor of the Lantos-Ros-Lehtinen legislation cutting aid to the Palestinians, which is opposed by the administration because, in the words of the State Department, the President already "has ample authority to impose all its restrictions." The bill also would constrain the President's "flexibility to use sanctions, if appropriate, as tools to address rapidly changing circumstances."
The State Department goes on to say: "Specifically, in order to support the bill, we would need added flexibility to provide support for President Abbas and for non-Hamas Palestinian institutions."
The Israelis themselves give no indication that they favor the approach taken by the House bill. On the contrary, when the Quartet announced this week that it would resume aid to the Palestinian Authority but would bypass Hamas by going through President Abbas's office, the Israelis said they had no problem with it.
"As far as we are concerned, the Quartet's decision to give further humanitarian support to the Palestinian Authority, bypassing the Hamas government, is definitely okay," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said.
One has to wonder why any Member of Congress would support this bill.
Certainly Mearsheimer and Walt would claim to know the reason. They would argue that it will pass in spite of the President's opposition, and the Olmert's government's indifference, because influential lobbyists are pushing it. They would say that it is election year politics pure and simple.
But strong and effective opposition to it (by IPF and other pro-Israel groups) have helped slow down the bill's progress. Just as significantly, the bill was improved in committee because of the strong opposition to it by a wide array of church groups representing tens of millions of Americans. And the Senate is considering a vastly improved bill, crafted by Senators McConnell and Biden.
But the House bill is still chugging along even though it keeps hitting one roadblock after another. That is not good enough. The bill should be defeated.
The pro-Israel lobby does not speak with one voice, despite what its critics – or its adherents – may argue. The majority of pro-Israel Americans (like their Israeli counterparts and the Israeli government) do not want to see ordinary Palestinians suffer to send a message to Hamas.
Punishing children – as this bill would do – is as profoundly un-Jewish as it is profoundly un-American. If I had to predict, I would say that this bill will never become law.
We are, to put it simply, better than that.