By Bird, Eugene
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. XI, No. 3
Congressional, Administration Pandering Has Nearly Destroyed Peace
By Eugene Bird
When a Department of State official was asked in late July, after events in Bosnia again had spun out of control, whether the lifting of arms sanctions proposed by Senator Bob Dole had influenced the talks between the Clinton administration and European officials, and the resulting decision to use NATO forces to strike back at the Serbs, his face lit up.
"Definitely," he replied. "The Dole bill was raised three times and discussed at the London Conference in mid-July. The fact that the president faced such a threat from Bob Dole made it easier for the British to come around and join us in taking effective action at Gorazde."
It is an old trick of diplomats, at least American diplomats, to use the threat of congressional action that allegedly would have worse consequences for the client state than the formula that the American diplomat is proposing. What can one do in the face of a foolish or out-of-control Congress, the argument goes. The objective is to get recalcitrant allies, or even enemies, to say yes to something they may not like at all.
In Haiti, for example, the Clinton administration actually found very useful the threats of Republicans in Congress to force a pullout of U.S. forces in order to gain concessions from Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on elections.
How differently the Arab-Israeli dispute is handled. Instead of being able to warn Israelis to speed up the peace process or face congressional action to do so, the White House is forced to warn Palestinian negotiators that if they do not acquiesce in actions that clearly violate the human and civil rights of their weary population, they will lose what minor U.S. assistance they are getting because of the Congress and its attitude problem toward everyone in the Middle East except Israelis.
For example, before he departed this summer for his new posting as American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk had to warn a member of the Palestinian Tourist Committee that his planned 22-story tourist hotel in East Jerusalem would not be allowed to qualify for American investment insurance. Indyk explained that the Congress simply would not permit the U.S. to insure this project, which was to be funded by private investments from the United States. The usual forces working in Congress on behalf of a foreign government called Israel could make big trouble for the Clinton administration if it encouraged any investment by American citizens in East Jerusalem.
The rules are clear. On its merits the hotel project would qualify hands down for such insurance against political and other risks to American investors. The Congress was judged to be adamant, however, about helping Palestinian Americans create some "facts on the ground" of their own in a city where U.S. foreign aid money is being expended to make huge Jewish building projects possible.
Only Israeli political requirements were taken into account.
Israeli-American entrepreneurs are going all-out to build 10,000 new hotel rooms in and around East Jerusalem, some of them on the West Bank, to lure Christian pilgrims and possibly even tourists from Muslim countries if full peace is realized. Are these projects qualifying for U.S. government-backed insurance? No one is talking.
It is not just the Israel lobby that is to blame for the present selective enforcement or disregard of U.S. laws and policies pertaining to the Palestinians and Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which lobbies openly for any elected government of Israel, is just doing what it is paid to do. (Mostly with U.S. funds recycled back to the U.S. by the Israeli government to buy U.S. political influence.) What makes Israel lobby actions so devastating to the peace process and to U.S. interests in the Middle East is the unfortunate absence of an adequate countering lobby to the array of Jewish organizations that back up AIPAC's work. …