Posted on May 20, 1996 in Washington Watch

For there to be peace there must be a constituency that supports and works for peace. This must be the true not only in Israel and among the Arabs, but in the U.S. as well.

The most disturbing aspect of the past two and a half years has not been the extent to which the peace process has been disrupted by the policies and actions of extremists in the Middle East, but the extent to which anti-peace rhetoric and policies continue to dominate U.S. politics.

This is nowhere more evident than debates in Congress and in congressional election campaigns.

Not only did the Republicans gain control of Congress in 1994, but many of those Republicans who assumed key leadership positions were allies of the pro-Likud faction in the U.S. Jewish community.

As a result, this Congress has been an extraordinary obstacle to peace and has not only distorted the U.S. role in the peace process but has also worked to negatively influence the way others think about Arabs and Islam.

It is this Congress that passed legislation making mandating the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It is this Congress that has tied humiliating conditions to U.S. aid to Palestinians and has continued to press that each of its conditions be met. And it is this Congress that regularly threatens to tie the hands of the Administration in the Middle East peace process unless the Administration bends to its will.

Not only do we have, as is the common refrain in the Arab world, an extremely pro-Israel Administration that will not publicly pressure or criticize even the most outrageous Israeli behavior – but we have a pro-Likud Republican leadership in the Congress that often poses a threat to the Administration by tying its hands and pressing on it anti-peace policies.

Even now, after Israel’s horrible assault against Lebanon, the Administration is seeking ways to provide some assistance to Lebanon. But the same Congress that would generously increase aid to Israel, is willing to send only a few million to Lebanon. And one powerful Senator has so far succeeded in blocking any consideration of an Administration request to send some excess military equipment to assist the struggling Lebanese army.

Even after the Palestine National Council met the congressionally-established deadline and voted to revoke sections of the PLO Charter that contradicted the Oslo I and Oslo II agreements, the Congressional leadership is still not satisfied and will not release the last $10 million in money already allotted to the Palestinians in the 1996 budget.

The rhetoric these Congressman use to deride the Palestinian leadership is embarrassing. It is Likud language, and more reminiscent of the darkest days of the Reagan era than in line with expectations in the “era of peace.”

Compounding this problem of the anti-peace movement is the confluence of the U.S. and Israeli election campaigns.

Speeches given by Congressmen to the recent meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC – the powerful pro-Israel lobby) in Washington were largely replicas of those given in an earlier time. The American Jewish community, conditioned by 12 years of Likud rule in Israel and the accompanying rhetoric of hatred and fear, responded enthusiastically to pledges to support Israeli military supremacy, to condemnations of Islamic fundamentalism, to pledges of even greater pressure on the Palestinians until they stop terrorism and change their charter, and to unquestioning support for every action and policy of the Israeli government.

Because fear is a more powerful force than hope for peace, politicians find it easier to mobilize support around this strong emotion. For the very same reason, the Labor party in Israel has blurred the lines between itself and the Likud in a desperate effort not to lose its election campaign. This was the source of the decision for the ruthless bombing of Lebanon, the imposition of strangling closure on the still-occupied territories, the continued building of new settlements and land confiscations, and the hysterical campaign against “fundamentalism.”

All of this translates as well into business as usual in the U.S. election year debate.

Reading the Middle East policy statements of candidates running for the Senate and Congress, seeking support from the American Jewish community, it is difficult to remember that there is a peace process underway.

These statements, frequently written for the candidate by pro-Israel supporters (all the candidates are then asked to do is endorse the position), emphasize the themes of the past. For the most part, candidates’ pledges “uncompromising support for Israel” as “America’s steadfast and only democratic ally – a nation with which we have shared values and interests.” Peace becomes peace for Israel alone, and so the candidates pledge “to stand by Israel as she takes risks for peace.” And then comes the all too-familiar refrain of commitments to:

· maintain Israel’s military superiority;
· maintain Israel’s aid at current levels;
· continue to apply pressure on the Palestinians;
· punish nations that do not make peace with Israel; and
· insistence that the U.S. Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem.

Lost in all of this, in both Israel and the U.S., is any substantial discussion of the requirements of peace. How, one might reasonably ask, can there be peace when both politicians and public opinion are sustaining the rhetoric of war?

I argued two and half years ago in articles and speeches before both Arab and Jewish audiences, that for there to be peace, a new paradigm had to be constructed. Both Arabs and Jews needed to provide mutual support and recognition of each other’s rights and needs.

If one side seeks peace while the other side, out of weakness and fear, seeks only to maintain its superiority, then the peace that is realized will, be definition, be a distorted one.

This, thus far, is the state of the 1996 political discussion. The challenge here in the U.S. is for Arab Americans to insist that the American Jewish leadership assume responsibility for what is taking place in the electoral debate. To say, as they do, that they are committed to peace while allowing pro-Likud elements to dominate the political discussion (because more responsible leaders are afraid to confront the more popular and comfortable rhetoric of the past) is unacceptable.

The mainstream of the American Jewish community cannot celebrate the destructive legislation to move the U.S. Embassy, seek to smear and isolate mainstream American Muslim organizations, support politicians who spout anti-peace and anti-Palestinian rhetoric, remain silent in the face of the destruction of Lebanon – and still expect to be viewed as partners in the peace process.

This must change, and it is our challenge in 1996.

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