Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pro-Israel Activists Resist Link between Iraq, Solution of Israel-Palestine Question

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pro-Israel Activists Resist Link between Iraq, Solution of Israel-Palestine Question

Article excerpt

In its December report, the Iraq Study Group (ISG), headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, issued a number of much-debated proposals about how to address the deteriorating situation in Iraq. The one which has produced perhaps the most sustained criticism, particularly from some American Jewish groups and by many in Israel, was its advice that the U.S. position in the Middle East would be dramatically improved if the Israeli-Palestinian question finally were resolved in a fair and equitable manner.

American Jewish groups were quick to criticize the study group's proposals. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) questioned recommending talks between Israelis and moderate Palestinians when Hamas heads the Palestinian Authority. According to an AJC statement, "The report does not explain what purpose will be served by negotiations between Israel and those Palestinians who, while presumably moderate, do not actually have the power to make and carry out agreements." Additionally, the AJC declared that calling on Syria to press Hamas into recognizing Israel was "ingenuous" when what was needed was an agreement to shut out the group.

The part of the report that most angered pro-Israel activists was the attempt to link a solution in Iraq to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The situation in Iraq is linked with events in the region," the report stated. "Several Iraqi, U.S. and international officials commented to us that Iraqi opposition to the U.S.-and support for [Shi'i radical cleric Moqtada] Sadr-spiked in the aftermath of Israel's bombing campaign in Lebanon."

In a Dec. 7 conference call of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, leaders of most member groups voiced reservations over this part of the ISG report and called for action to block any Israeli-Iraq linkage. Israel's consul general in New York, Arye Mekel, who took part in the Americans' discussion, said that while Israel will not try to intervene in an American decision-making process, it hopes to make clear that the two disputes are unrelated. Mekel allegedly portrayed the report as negative from Israel's standpoint and said that James Baker was responsible for the report's language on Israel. Other participants, including Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), stressed the importance of ensuring that the recommendations seen as linking Israel and Iraq are not adopted.

American Jewish groups were quick to criticize the study group's proposals.

According to the Dec. 15, 2006 issue of The Forward, "The only dissenting voice in the call was that of Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum, who said the Jewish community should not lose sight of the need to support peace efforts in the Middle East. 'I'm against any linkage,' Reich later told The Forward, 'but at the same time it's important to open every door that can lead to negotiations with the Palestinians.'"

Numerous Jewish groups issued statements opposing the Baker-Hamilton report. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) accused the study group of falling "into the trap of inappropriately linking stability in Iraq to a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict." The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) said the report's recommendations would "cripple the war on Islamist terror." According to The Forward, "In private conversations, Israeli officials expressed outrage over the report, arguing that the committee-while interviewing eight Arab ambassadors and many other Arab officials, spoke only to one Israeli, Ephraim Sneh."

The president of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, called the Jewish organizations' response a "knee jerk reaction," saying that America needs to restore its credibility in the Arab world. "It is possible to go on with a 'U.S. and Israel against the world' policy," Zogby noted, "but then Iraq will disintegrate and Iran will take over. …

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