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December 04, 2007


Paul Friedman

Excellent article.

Yet, as we enter 2008, the argument will once again return to which party's presidential nominee will be better for Israel.

Early on in George W. Bush's first term, Republicans touted the fact that Bush refused to meet with Arafat or even get involved in seeking peace in the Middle East. That approach actually won support from some Democrats because they were frustrated by Arafat walking away from the negotiating table set by Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, though, while we couldn't deal with Arafat, walking away was deadly wrong. The result, in my mind, was that instead of stepping in to end the war on Israel started by Arafat many Israelis died unnecessarily.

For instance, Arafat still cared about aid from Europe and he might well have quelled his terrorism had Europe demanded it, but Bush did nothing.

Now, at the end of Bush's second term, after his disastrous Iraq policy, and his decision to promote an election among Palestinians that, to his complete surprise, Hamas won, Bush is finally pursuing peace. So, no longer can Republicans claim that the best way to achieve peace is to ignore the situation.

So, what argument do they have left?

Well, given how minimal Bush's effort in Annapolis was and how the view among many experts is that:

a) it was nothing more than an event to create a photo-op


b) it was really a way to unify Sunni-controlled nations behind the US against Iran

Republicans are likely to argue that their next nominee will be happy to provide limited peace-making assistance (i.e. neutral ground for meetings, encouragement, etc...) but that America should not play an active role in moving the parties to their stated goal. Such an effort, they will argue, is against Israel's interests even though the Annapolis accord gave the US a specific role as the lone umpire in dealings between the two sides.

I don't think that argument is a winner. I think the nation is once again ready for a more activist U.S. role.

If nothing more than actually living up to the responsibility of serving as umpire - as the two sides requested - the US must play an active role.

Moreover, the US should make a significant effort to speak up for Israel in European nations and argue that they have a special responsibility to oppose terrorism against Jews given their history and that they must turn their backs on Hamas unless and until it provides true freedom to the people of Gaza, rejects its stated mission to eliminate Israel, and abandons violence.

In any case, as we go forward, while the string of positive actions listed above are very helpful, we will still be challenged. Hopefully, in our desire to win over swing Jewish voters, we will not abandon our belief that an activist approach to the Middle East is better for Israel, America and the world.

Debra Delee is both the CEO of Americans for Peace Now (APN) and (former) Democratic party activist. (She was in charge of the 1996 Democratic party convention.)

President Clinton, for the most part, supported Israel in a way that APN approved. When there impasses in negotiations when Binyamin Netanyahu was PM, Clinton regularly faulted Netanyahu even when it was clear that Yasser Arafat had complied with none of his commitments. APN supported pressure on Israel that Clinton and (in his 2nd term) Sec Albright were more than happy to provide.

Even after the Aqsa intifada started, the Clinton administration was pushing then PM Barak - who was then representing a minority government that was about to fall - to make concessions to the PA.

While the Bush 43 administration leaves a lot to be desired regarding Israel, especially lately, it hardly has hewed to the line of APN. The Clinton administration and Bush 41 both did. And I expect that whichever Democrat is elected President in 2008 (assuming that a Democrat wins) will be more likely to have a Robert Malley on staff than John Bolton.

So yes, there is a difference and it doesn't favor the Democrats.

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