There’s no doubt that the Bush Administration’s drive to end the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq will have profound and inestimable consequences.

TO: CMEP ACTION ALERT EMAIL NETWORK
FROM: CORINNE WHITLATCH, Executive Director

RE: CMEP Newsletter — “While Eyes are Focused on Iraq: An Update from Washington on Israeli-Palestinian Issues ”

There’s no doubt that the Bush Administration’s drive to end the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq will have profound and inestimable consequences.  The massive U.S. military buildup, the diplomatic arm-twisting in and outside the United Nations, the suspicion of imperial objectives, the diversion of funds and attention away from domestic and other international issues will characterize, and perhaps haunt, the Bush Administration.

If, either during or in the aftermath of the crisis with Iraq, the administration does the sustained diplomatic work required for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, it could transform the rampant anti-American sentiment of the Arab and Muslim world that threatens us today, and could restore confidence in the leadership of the United States.   

The fundamental prerequisite for Israeli-Arab peace is the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 which requires that Israel end its occupation of the land it conquered in 1967, as well as Arab acceptance of Israel’s “right to live within secure and recognized borders free from threats or acts of force.” Only this can bring Israel the international legitimacy and security it needs – which it has failed to achieve by military might.

If the Israeli occupation continues, the two-state solution is impossible, dooming the Jewish and Arab peoples to a grim future in a region that is economically and politically stunted and religiously enflamed.   

In the meantime, more Israeli and Palestinian lives are lost to gruesome violence. During this period of turmoil, it is especially important that people with a faith-based commitment to justice and peace not give up on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Polls continue to show that majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians want a negotiated resolution of the conflict and reject the extremist goal of eliminating the “other.”

An update follows on Israeli-Palestinian related issues and tips on what is timely for advocacy.   

The Quartet’s Road Map
President Bush has said he is committed to work with the U.N., the EU and Russia to provide a road map that leads to his expressed vision of a viable Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel.  First, the President said that the release of the three-year- long plan had to wait until after the Israeli elections in January, then until after the formation of Prime Minister’s Sharon’s new governing coalition. Then came the ultimate delaying tactic when the President, talking about the road map in his address on February 26 at the American Enterprise Institute, said, “America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace, and the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.”

The New York Times reports that Britain’s PM Tony Blair was angry over the delay. He had pleaded with Bush to become more involved in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. One senior European diplomat was reported to have said, “This administration will never do anything opposed by Sharon.” Another said that releasing the plan was the only way to keep hope alive among Muslims in the Middle East. “Without hope, the power of extremists will only grow.” The decision to sit on the plan was a rebuff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has seen the management of Middle East policies increasingly taken over by Elliott Abrams, the new chief at the National Security Council. A passionate advocate for Israel, Abrams’ appointment was followed by the so-called resignation of three NSC aides identified with the pro-peace plan.

In a surprise reversal, the President announced on March 14 that the road map would be released as soon as the new Palestinian prime minister was confirmed. He called upon Israelis and Palestinians to “move beyond entrenched positions and to take concrete actions to achieve peace.” The decision to unveil the long-delayed peace plan, while probably motivated by the administration’s efforts to forge support for the war with Iraq, is welcome. But the political will to implement the plan immediately has yet to be proven.

In your advocacy, make the point that even as the crisis with Iraq unfolds, the tragic and dangerous Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be given high-priority attention. It is not sufficient merely to release the peace plan; now, the administration as well must take concrete actions that show that the vision of a viable Palestinian state is more than an illusion.

Bush Adopts Pro-Israel Hawks’ Views:
The Washington Post’s Robert G. Kaiser has written that “For the first time, a U.S. Administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies.” Kaiser claims that the “Bush administration’s alignment with Israel delights many of its strongest supporters, especially evangelical Christians and a large part of organized American Jewry.”   

Richard Perle, chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and a mentor of Abrams, led a study group that proposed to Benyamin Netanyahu, prime minister from 1996-1999, that the Oslo peace accords be abandoned. The report suggested that Israel should insist on Arab recognition of its claim to the biblical land of Israel and should “focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”

Palestinian Political Reform
Insisting that President Yasser Arafat be replaced as Palestinian leader is a key demand of Sharon that Bush has amplified. Bush has refused to meet with Arafat, and stood aside as Israel’s army held Arafat hostage in his Ramallah compound. Both the administration and Congress have placed Palestinian political reform as a high priority.  While this is used by some policymakers as a device to block Palestinian diplomacy and the revival of a negotiating process, there is, nevertheless, a need for reform that can liberate Palestinian political processes.   

In April 2001, CMEP’s Guide for Advocacy urged “that U.S. policy toward the Palestinian Authority should combine criticism of its authoritarian excesses, cronyism and corruption with encouragement of its emerging democratic practices. Too often U.S. insistence upon strong security measures has encouraged Palestinian repression of dissent, arbitrary arrest and execution, and grave violations of the rule of law. While condemning Palestinian misconduct, anti-Israel incitement, and failure to protect human rights, the U.S. should seek ways to nurture democratic impulses and institutions in the evolving Palestinian political process.”

Many Palestinians crave a reformed polity that truly allows for democratic processes. The recent appointments of a prime minister and a highly qualified finance minister are steps in the right direction.   

The point to make in advocacy is that Palestinian political reform is made difficult, if not impossible, by the conditions of Israel’s reoccupation of Palestinian land.  A climate is needed that allows for the development of a governmental infrastructure and a workable economy – and provides confidence that a viable Palestinian state will indeed be created.

World Bank and U.N. Reports
The World Bank study released on March 3 quantified the disastrous situation of the Palestinians. Sixty percent of Palestinians now live in poverty, and investment in the Palestinian economy has collapsed from an estimated $1.5 billion in 1999 to just under $140 million last year. The World Bank said that the Palestinians would need $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid this year just to cover the most urgent day-to-day needs.

Another study, by the U.N., reported that nearly two million Palestinians are living on less than $2 per day. Both reports put the cause of the collapse of the economy on the closures imposed on Palestinian areas by the Israeli army. These reports follow studies in the summer of 2002 on the nutritional consequences for the Palestinian children, which found that over 22.5 percent of Palestinian children under age five suffer from acute and chronic malnutrition. A U.N. economic advisor said “There is a profound humanitarian crisis…It cannot be resolved by aid. Only a political solution can offer some hope of resolving the crisis.”

Your advocacy should call for U.S. financial assistance to the Palestinian people during this crisis until its resolution is possible through a diplomatic process.

International Help Needed
With the diplomatic processes in the deep-freeze, horrendous violence has become the norm in daily life in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The killings of innocent Jewish and Palestinian civilians mute the conciliatory voices of moderates on both sides and bury hope for a political solution to the conflict.

There are reports that talks have resumed between Palestinian and Israeli security officials. Egypt has hosted talks among Palestinian factions about halting attacks in Israel. Israel is building a fence to separate Israelis and Palestinians for security purposes. It is highly unlikely, however, that the violence can be quelled without an international presence of some sort, an action that Israel has refused.   

An op-ed in the New York Times by a former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry may provide an opening for American-led international intervention. David Kimche wrote, “the greatest help Washington could give to Israel is, paradoxically, something the Palestinians have long wanted; an American-led delegation of observers in the territories, who would ensure that the Palestinian Authority is making a credible effort to end terrorism while also guarding against Israeli human rights violations.”

In advocacy, make the point that international intervention could help calm the violence and pave the way for a new diplomatic process.

Settlements
The Israeli economy is also in trouble, experiencing its worst recession in decades. Prime Minister Sharon has reportedly told allies that only a diplomatic solution to the conflict will revive Israel’s economy.  In the meantime, Israel is requesting more help from the U.S. in the form of $8 billion in loan guarantees, which would allow Israel to receive loans from U.S. commercial banks at a lower rate.   

The reoccupation, terrorism, global recession and loss of tourism have all hurt Israel’s economy.  Even so, according to Peace Now, Prime Minister Sharon invested almost $500 million in the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories in 2001. This calculation does not include the defense ministry costs of protecting the settlements.

For over 30 years, U.S. government officials have voiced opposition to Israel’s building of settlements in the land occupied in 1967.  Yet more than 60 new settlements have been established in the last two years, and the number of settlers has increased by more than 11 percent since 2000.   

In the last few months, there have been major news articles and polling on the settlements that reveal little popular support for settlements, even among Israelis (a Truman Institute study in late 2002 reports that 64 percent support a freeze and 62 percent support dismantlement of most settlements as part of a peace agreement).

The most timely and feasible action for advocacy is to encourage Congress to help stop Israel’s settlement building by placing conditions on Israel’s request for loan guarantees, and new military aid.   

Suggested Action:

Historically and currently, opposition to the settlements has come from the White House, State Department and U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Congress has generally ignored Israel’s continued settlement activity.

The Congress must no longer be silent about Israel’s settlements. It is important that a larger number of Members of Congress make their support known for U.S. action to stop, and roll back, ongoing settlement activity. It is most likely that the conditioning language would be inserted into a comprehensive funding bill by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee.   

Call, fax, e-mail or send a message on the Member’s website.  The Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121. Congressional directories and website can be accessed at  http://thomas.loc.gov

URGE your Representative and Senators to make stopping Israeli settlements a top priority. This is an essential step to restoring hope for Middle East peacemaking.

ASK them to speak out about the threat to Israel and threat to the hopes for peace that result from Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

ASK them to support placing meaningful conditions on new aid to Israel that forces Prime Minister Sharon to freeze settlement activity and begin the process of returning settlers to Israel.

Ongoing Advocacy:  Regarding the other issues related to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking: Remember that advocacy is more than communicating with policymakers. Advocacy includes shaping public opinion in your congregation and community by means of discussion, sharing resources and information, writing letters to the editor and participating in talk radio programs.