Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is AIPAC Lobbying for War or Peace with Iran and Gaza?, by Gidon D. Remba

Is AIPAC Lobbying for War or Peace with Iran and Gaza?
By Gidon D. Remba
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
July 24, 2007

This month’s column comes to you from Washington, D.C., where I have just attended the Executive Committee meeting of AIPAC, the “pro-Israel lobby,” as a delegate of Ameinu. The meeting, which focused on AIPAC's support for new legislation to ratchet up economic sanctions on Iran, was addressed by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, thirty freshman members of Congress, other prominent senators and Congress-folk, and Israeli Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor.

While AIPAC professed its undying belief that "the United States must exhaust every economic, diplomatic and political tool to persuade the Iranian government to end its nuclear program," in fact the organization has completely failed to support any political, security or economic incentives which, when combined with sanctions, might create a real opportunity for the pragmatists in the Iranian leadership to reach an accommodation with the U.S. and chart a way out of the nuclear crisis.

AIPAC claims that its sanctions-only policy is meant to avoid war with Iran, ending the Iranian nuclear program through non-military means. But the lobby's tack would withhold many of the most effective non-military tools which proved successful with North Korea. These include the offer of future commercial ties and normalization of diplomatic relations if Iran reaches a satisfactory resolution with the international community on the nuclear issue and ends support for terrorism, while going along with efforts to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a two-state solution. This is the “grand bargain” which Iran proposed to the Bush Administration several years ago, to no avail.

The two-day meeting, which culminated in lobbying sessions with members of Congress, opened moments after President Bush made a major speech on Palestinian-Israeli peace. Bush spelled out his (and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's) strategy of reviving peace talks with the new Fatah Palestinian government under President Mahmoud Abbas and freshly appointed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank, while continuing to isolate and pressure Hamas in Gaza. AIPAC has endorsed the new Bush strategy, instructing its activists to "urge members [of Congress] to support the new Palestinian government” albeit with “proper congressional oversight, and with continued calls on the new government to combat terrorism and fight corruption."

AIPAC insisted that "US support for the new government should be conditioned on its continued rejection of Hamas and a clear understanding that it will not seek an accommodation with a terrorist group committed to Israel's destruction." These conditions, which reflect the Bush Administration's outlook, have set the U.S. against its moderate Arab allies—especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt—which have been encouraging Fatah and Hamas to reconcile and reconstitute a national unity government. Even IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset recently that the return of a Fatah-Hamas unity government is inevitable. Is American and Israeli policy based on a realistic picture of the neighborhood—or on wishful thinking?

While the new Bush-Olmert peace gambit has drawn support from various quarters in both the US and Israel, many critics have expressed strong skepticism over its viability. A policy built on fomenting civil war between Fatah and Hamas insures that Hamas has every incentive to do its utmost to act as the great spoiler. Indeed, many fear that its flaws are so grave it may well make the patient even more violently ill than before. Lest anyone doubt the Orwellian core of this new Bush “peace initiative,” Ha’aretz reported recently that the Bush Administration “does not want a reconciliation” between Fatah and Hamas. “It wants a confrontation. It wants a decisive victory.” That strategy worked out well for Israel against Hezbollah in Lebanon and the U.S. against Iraqi insurgents (and the U.S. against the Viet Cong, and the French against the Algerian FLN), so we can rest assured it will work just fine here as well.

There are, sadly, all too many reasons to doubt that the Bush Administration, the Olmert government, and a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority immersed in conflict with Hamas will execute wisely, robustly or effectively enough for the optimistic forecasts of recent happy peace talk to be fulfilled. So long as Bush refuses to invite Syria to the table or to permit Abbas to co-opt Hamas to return to a national unity government, these forces are likely to work assiduously to undermine his moves. Fatal flaws in President Bush’s game plan are likely to render his peace effort stillborn. In short: hope for success; expect failure.

Nor is it likely that the President’s vaunted fall “peace conference” will bear fruit, following its downgrade by his spinmeister to just a “meeting” on Palestinian institution-building with players who already recognize Israel (that sounds like a trailblazing historic summit now doesn’t it?). With the administration’s belated admission (after Congressional sources revealed) that the financial aid announced in the President’s speech to bolster the new Fatah government was already budgeted beforehand, the absence of substantial new economic assistance to the PA is bound to leave Palestinians bitter and disenchanted. It isn’t hard to embrace cynicism about Bush’s Mideast endgame in his final 18 months in office as he struggles with a region already set aflame by the fiasco he himself has fashioned in Iraq. We can expect, at best, little but sound and light shows on the Arab-Israel conundrum from this administration.

Meanwhile, AIPAC leadership enthusiastically endorsed the fire-breathing March 2007 AIPAC National Policy Conference speech of Rev. John Hagee of the fundamentalist right-wing Christians United For Israel (CUFI), which brought some 4,000 members last week from around the country to lobby on the Hill in support of Israel the day after AIPAC. I’m sure it was entirely coincidental that three of AIPAC’s four lobbying agenda items were identical to CUFI’s, and that the lobbying days were back to back. AIPAC leadership is happy to hop into bed with CUFI on Iran sanctions, US aid to Israel and putting more teeth into UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to enable international forces to better stanch arms smuggling in Lebanon.

But AIPAC leaders prefer to ignore the fact that Hagee and CUFI are implacably opposed to a two-state solution and any territorial compromise, whether with Mahmoud Abbas or with the Messiah himself—even while giving Hagee a platform for just such rhetoric before 6,000 AIPAC zombies. They also choose to overlook Hagee's repeated calls for a preemptive US war with Iran. After AIPAC’s continued warm embrace of Hagee and CUFI, its protestations that it is now all in favor of helping the Fatah government reach a two-state solution, and truly dedicated to a non-military settlement of the Iranian nuclear challenge, ring ever more hollow.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at http://www.ameinu.net/ and http://tough-dove-israel.blogspot.com/