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Little Support in Washington for Kerry’s Mideast Efforts

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's recent push to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has received almost no support from Congress, which has largely ignored the issue even as it has drifted to the right.

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While Secretary of State John Kerry was in Israel declaring his aim to “exhaust all the possibilities of peace” to try to stop wasting the Obama Administration’s time and energy on the futile effort to find a resolution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, Congress was illustrating once again why the United States cannot play a constructive role in this conflict.

Congressional activity this month has been largely focused on Iran and, to a lesser degree, Syria. But a few events demonstrated that, despite President Barack Obama’s lofty goals and rhetoric about peace, Congress has continued its long-term, bi-partisan shift to the right on this issue. Interestingly, one of the most illustrative examples was actually a bill in support of peace and a two-state solution to the conflict.

That bill, H.Res.238, titled “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding United States efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace,” was brought by California Democrat Barbara Lee, one of the most ardent pro-peace voices in Congress. The bill is mostly unremarkable; it does nothing more than re-state what is, ostensibly, long-standing US policy. Yet, if anyone was paying any attention to the bill, they would notice that one of the provisions “calls on the Israeli Government to cease support for and to prevent further settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories.”

This is, of course, official US policy, but in practice, it is opposed by most of Congress and the Israel Lobby. Obama found out how difficult it can be to pursue US interests and enforce official US policy early in his first term when he attempted to get Israel to comply with this very idea.

The bulk of Lee’s bill, both in the preamble and the eleven “resolved” clauses, is an unequivocal praise of US peace efforts, from Ronald Reagan through Obama, and an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. Yet the bill has only four co-sponsors and was immediately referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it will quite certainly die. It is telling that on the same day Lee introduced this bill, she put out two press releases, neither of which mentions H.Res.238.

While Lee has to find a way to bulk up her pro-peace credentials quietly, so she won’t incur the wrath of AIPAC (which, despite Lee representing the very liberal areas of Berkeley and Oakland, California, is very strong in her district), those who oppose any sort of resolution of this conflict operate openly and proudly. The so-called “Israel Allies Foundation,” an ultra-right wing group which opposes any sharing of Jerusalem, will celebrate the anniversary of the Israeli occupation with an event in the Rayburn House office building of the House of Representatives. According to their announcement, the event will include speeches from Congress members while “Jewish and Christian leaders” gather with their assembled flock to pray.

As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now explains, “IAF was ‘pioneered’ by far right-wing Israeli former MK Benny Elon, a longtime opponent of the two-state solution, a strong supporter of the settlement movement, a devotee of the “Jordan is Palestine” approach, and an advocate of “transfer” of Palestinians.  Elon has authored his own “peace plan” whose first point is: “Government Decision: Declaring the Palestinian Autorithy [sic] an enemy.” He and his views have long received a warm welcome from some on Capitol Hill, including as recently as February of this year.”

It is telling that, as Kerry was preparing for his latest excursion to Israel, Congress was very quiet about Israel-Palestine peace. Aside from Lee’s meaningless bill, there was hardly a peep on Capitol Hill about Kerry’s trip. Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet was debating whether or not the two-state solution is even Israel’s position in the first place.

The situation has grown so dire that J Street, the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby”, issued an alert to its members asking them to demand that Israel “affirm the Israeli government’s commitment to two states for two peoples.” According to their alert, “For there to be any hope of progress, the Israeli government must state unequivocally that support for a two-state solution is a core principle of its foreign policy – as it has been under every Prime Minister since Yitzhak Rabin.”

This is, however, a patent falsehood. Rabin’s position was never a two-state solution. He initiated the Oslo process, but the endgame was, quite intentionally, never defined before his death. Nor did his successor, Shimon Peres, ever affirm support for a two-state solution while in office. The next Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ran for office on an explicitly anti-Oslo platform, and his party, the Likud Coalition, to this day expresses absolute opposition to a Palestinian state as part of its platform. Ehud Barak proposed a two-state solution of sorts, though its terms were clearly never going to be acceptable to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon removed Israel’s settlements from Gaza, and his closest advisor, Dov Weisglass, said that the purpose of that withdrawal was to freeze the peace process, a statement Sharon never repudiated. And, while Ehud Olmert seemed to support a two-state solution, when the Palestinians offered almost total capitulation on issues of territory, Jerusalem and refugees, his government still rejected it.

J Street is understandably grasping at straws. Without the Oslo framework of a two-state solution, it has no reason to exist, and is very likely to wither and die. It is therefore desperate to maintain the illusion that the peace process as it has existed for the past twenty years is still alive, even though it is clear to any rational observer that it’s not.

Kerry’s current blitz, whether intentional or not, is going to be the final nail in the coffin. As the entire question of Palestine slips behind an Iranian and Syrian curtain for the summer, it will take a dramatic action to bring attention back to it. But that action will not come from John Kerry or Barack Obama. It might come from an Israeli government that could feel emboldened by the lack of attention on the Palestinian Territories to take the sort of actions that Naftali Bennett, who has called for annexation by Israel of 60% of the West Bank, would recommend. It could come from the Palestinians, if they finally choose to face reality and acknowledge that the United States is incapable, due to its “unshakeable bond” with Israel and the enormous influence of the Israel Lobby, of ever pressuring Israel into even the minimal concessions needed to start talks again, let alone bring them to a conclusion.

Or it could happen because this situation, in all its hopelessness and cynicism, finally erupts into sustained violence again. But whatever the outcome turns out to be, we can be sure that in the near term, the issue will move to the back burner. In the long-term, whenever it emerges, the playing field will no longer reflect acceptance of the Oslo process and its endless negotiations to nowhere.

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