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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Congressional Letter Provided Positive Backdrop to Annapolis Conference

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

By Shirl McArthur

January - February 2008

In a rare display of congressional constructiveness, the Nov. 26-27 Annapolis conference was preceded by a Nov. 19 bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, originated by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Charles Boustany (R-LA) and signed by 133 other House members. The letter commended Rice for her “efforts to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process” and suggested that additional near-term measures will be necessary. In addition to urging “robust, hands-on U.S. leadership and diplomacy,” it recommends a reorientation of U.S. project-focused assistance programs to meet the immediate needs of the Palestinian people and to leverage international support “for financial and personnel reforms in the Palestinian Authority, for housing or other labor intensive projects, for the effective operation of a Palestinian police force and an independent Palestinian judiciary, and for long-term economic development and job creation programs.” It also urges engaging “with Israel to coordinate a remittance schedule for Palestinian tax monies and to improve access and movement.”

While the letter itself was significant, equally significant is the list of its signers and the support it received from a broad range of organizations. Boustany is one of the House’s four Arab-American members, all of whom signed the letter, and Ackerman is Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel. He was joined in signing the letter by 11 other Jewish House members, including Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), who has long been one of Israel’s most fervent supporters. (The full list of signers can be found on the Web site of Churches for Middle East Peace’s [CMEP]: <www.cmep.org/alerts/2007Nov20.htm>.) Organizations giving strong support to the letter included Americans for Peace Now, the American Task Force on Palestine, the Arab American Institute, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, CMEP, and the Israel Policy Forum. AIPAC even gave luke-warm support—not actively lobbying for it, but telling members of Congress, if they asked, that AIPAC is “on board.”

The Ackerman/Boustany letter stands in stark contrast to the previous Senate letter to Rice, described in the December 2007 issue of the Washington Report. Initiated by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), strongly promoted by AIPAC, and signed by 79 senators, it was designed to assure that Arab states would not attend the conference by urging strict conditions on their attendance. Another negative letter was sent to Rice on Oct. 25 by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), one of Israel’s more rabid supporters. She said she “could not disagree more” that it is time to establish a Palestinian state, and that it is a “myth” and a “cynical ploy by Middle East autocrats” that the road to stability in the Middle East must go through the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Annapolis conference and the Ackerman/Boustany letter seem to have taken the steam out of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) S.Res. 321, which would reaffirm the Senate’s “commitment to a true and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and to Rep. Susan Davis’ (D-CA) H.Res. 143 “urging the President to appoint a Special Envoy for Middle East Peace,” both of which were described in previous issues of this magazine. Each having gained only one co-sponsor, S.Res. 321 now has 37 and H.Res. 143 now has 53.

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