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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


Town Hall Conference Call with former Senator Lincoln Chafee

Seeking a New Road Map to Peace

On Thursday, April 26, 2007, former Senator and Chair of the Senate Subcomittee on Near East Affairs presented his views on the current situation in the Middle East and discussed the role of the United States, and particularly Congress, in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. This call was part of Brit Tzedeks Lets Talk Town Hall conference call series.

Thank you Rob very much, Diane also, David at the beginning.  Thank you to the listeners also, but most of all thank you to the whole organization of Brit Tzedek. From my viewpoint, having served in Congress, there is not enough debate on what is Israel’s best long-term interest in Congress, and Brit Tzedek is changing that. I’ve heard people say that there is more debate in Tel Aviv than there is in Washington, D.C., and you’re changing that and I applaud that.  We all know that debate is good and what is in Israel’s and America’s best long term interests and I applaud your good work.

I know the title of this call is the ‘new Roadmap to peace’, but in order to look at what we can do going forward I think it’s constructive to look back.  Having served in Congress under President Bush and listened carefully to everything he said I thought I’d share some selected quotes from him and maybe we can start with that.  I’ll start with the buildup to the Iraq war and the president’s address to the American Enterprise Institute, February 26, 2003.  The Iraq war really commenced a month later, and so when the president addressed the AEI, the American Enterprise Institute, he said, “Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress toward a truly democratic Palestinian state. For its part the government of Israel, if the terror threat is removed, and security improves, is expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement.  As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end.  America will seize every opportunity to pursue peace, and the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.”

The president is talking about a linkage between regime change in Iraq and moving the peace process forward.  This is the first time since the president took office that he’s really addressing – he talked about the Road Map earlier – but he’s really talking about moving this peace process forward.  So to me that’s good news to hear that.  And then when there was successful regime change and the statues came down, and the president appeared on an aircraft carrier with ‘Mission Accomplished’ he continued to stress the importance of moving the peace process forward.  He and King Abdullah from Jordan and Mr. Sharon, and the newly elevated prime minister Abu Mazen from the Palestinian territories all met, the four of them, in the Jordanian seaside resort of Aqaba, and I remember watching it on TV, the gorgeous Gulf of Aqaba, the background and blue sky and palm trees, the four of them standing there and talking about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and even though I voted against the war and was a critic of it, at that moment, and listening to what I’m going to read from what the president said, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is going to work.’ 

Let me just read again what the president said on June 4, 2003.  This is right after ‘Mission Accomplished,’ standing beside Prime Minister Sharon, Abu Mazen, and King Abdullah.  The president said, “All here share a goal. The Holy Land must be shared between the State of Palestine, and the State of Israel, living in peace with each other and with every nation of the Middle East. All sides will benefit from this achievement and all sides have responsibilities to meet. As the Road Map accepted by the parties makes clear, both must make tangible, immediate steps toward this two state vision. I welcome Prime Minister Sharon’s pledge to improve the Palestinian humanitarian situation in the Palestinian areas and begin removing unauthorized outposts immediately.  I appreciate his gestures of reconciliation on behalf of prisoners and their families, and his frank statements of the need for territorial contiguity.”  The president goes on, “As I said yesterday, the issue of settlements must be addressed for peace to be achieved. In addition, Prime Minister Sharon has stated that no unilateral actions by either side can or should prejudge the outcome of future negotiations. The Prime Minister also recognizes that it is in Israel’s own interest for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. These are meaningful signs of respect for the rights of Palestinians and hopes for a viable democratic peaceful Palestinian state.”  This is still the president going on, “All sides have made important commitments and the United States will strive to see these commitments fulfilled.  My government will provide training and support for a new restructured Palestinian security service, and will place a mission on the ground led by Ambassador John Wolf.”  Remember that name.  “This mission will be charged with helping the parties move toward peace, monitoring their progress, and stating clearly who is fulfilling their responsibilities, and we expect both parties to keep their promise. I’ve also asked Secretary of State Colin Powel and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to make this cause a matter of the highest priority.  Secretary Powel and Dr. Rice are my personal representatives, and will work closely with the parties helping them move toward true peace as quickly as possible. The journey we’re taking is difficult but there is no other choice. No leader of conscience can accept more months, more years of humiliation, killing, and mourning, and these leaders of conscience have made their declarations today in the cause of peace. The United States is commited to that cause. If all sides fulfill their obligation I know that peace can finally come.”

And I was listening to it, as I said earlier, and I’m tearing, saying, I could be wrong about voting against the war.  This is all going to work, we’re all going to have regime change and we’re all going to have peace between Israelis and Palestinians – that could be good for the Middle East.  So I followed carefully what happened in the weeks and months ahead.  And what happened was there was a ceasefire, Abu Mazen was able to go back to his people and say, “We’re going to move this peace process forward,” what the Arabs call a hunda, a cooling down.  Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be much action going on as far as this peace process the president so articulately laid out there in what I just read, and finally Abu Mazen came to Washington at the end of July, and met with President Bush, and then met with the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which I was a member, and I remember very very clearly, he was pleading with us to help him, to empower him with his people on three issues – he was very clear, it wasn’t a long list of issues that he was laying out, it was three issues: Help me with the prisoners, which the president mentioned in his speech in Aqaba as you remember;  he also said, ‘Help me out not with the construction of the barrier, but the route of it” – the route of it he stressed to us; and lastly of course, the continued expansion of settlement activity.  He said, ‘Help me on any of those three and I’ll be able to keep the hudna going.’  And we gave our support in the committee, and the president said favorable things, but nothing happened, and sadly, in August there was a horrible bombing of a bus in Jerusalem in which I think twenty people were killed and the ceasefire collapsed.

I happened to take a trip to Israel in late August right after that bombing and I met with Ambassador John Wolf – the president said I’m going to give him the highest priority to move this forward – I met him in the King David hotel in Jerusalem as part of a preplanned trip, and I asked him, What happened? Why didn’t we move this peace process that the president talked about forward? And here I am face to face with the gentleman who has been given the power to push that peace process forward and he looked at me, and he put his hands up and shrugged, and that’s the truth. And it’s a mystery to me, why does the president say these words and then not back them up with action. And I’ll just go forward chronologically and then I’ll take some questions.

The further frusteration I showed after that, after the hudna collapsed and after that I think Abu Mazen quickly resigned from there.  The Geneva people got together – they had an opportunity, the Genvea Accords, for the administration to come forward and welcome them.  This is citizens getting together and trying to do the right thing, trying to iron out these long historical issues between Israelis and Palestinians.  Instead they got the cold shoulder in Washington.  It was a mystery to me. And then of course there was the death of Yasser Arafat.  Of course we all know that Yasser Arafat was always held up as the obstacle to any peace process.  He dies, and who’s elected?  Abu Mazen is elected, again put back in power – elected by the Palestinian people by over sixty percent on a platform of peace – the Palstinian people saying yes, we’ll elect you, we want peace, by over sixty percent.  And once again the same scenario played out. Abu Mazen comes to Washington and says, ‘Please, get this peace process moving, help me on any of these three issues.’  And it didn’t happen – this is the spring of 2005.

It didn’t happen, and I saw it with my own eyes.  I’m urging the administration at every Armed Services hearing, move this forward.  It’s important as the president said. It’s important to our success in Iraq and in the region generally.  And nothing happened, and of course in the next election, as we know, who wins? Hamas wins.  Hamas wins and that just puts us in an impossible situation that we fnd ourselves in now.  So the key question now, I think, is the credibility of the administration, if the president is going to say all these important, good things, where’s the action behind them, and why the missed opportunities?  And I’m sure the Arab world shares that same frustration that I do and the same hesitation I do to lay complete trust behind what might come ahead based on what has happened over the last number of years.      

Nonetheless, I’m from Rhode Island, and on our flag our motto is ‘Hope’, and let’s hope, and Condoleeza Rice and what she’s trying to do over there is a new breath of fresh air.  There are new people that are going to understand the importance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and our success in the region.  I do believe that, as the president said himself in the address to the American Enterprise Institute, that they are irrevocably linked together.  I thank the Iraq Study Group, made up of a bi-partisan group of Americans who are saying we have to deal regionally, and the Arab-Israeli peace process is part of our success in Iraq.

Thank you for having me on the show, I applaud all your good work and whatever I can do to support the debate in Congress, I’d jump through any hoop to do that.  
                    

Q & A followed this address and is available for listening on our website.
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