WASHINGTON – The congresswoman who oversees US aid to Israel told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that the ongoing dispute between the countries would in no way harm assistance to the Jewish state.
“There is no question in my mind that the 10-year memorandum of understanding is solid,” Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the US House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said of the decade-long US aid plan under which $3 billion will be going to Israel this year. “There is strong bipartisan support for Israel in the Congress that will not falter.”
She said that continuing support is also in place when it comes to the US commitment to Israel maintaining a qualitative military edge over its Arab neighbors and other forms of military coordination.
“The military cooperation, the intelligence cooperation, the focus on Iran, is solid and strengthens every year,” said Lowey, who also sits on the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees.
The New York congresswoman referred to the current tensions between the US and Israel as a “hiccup,” noting there have been occasional differences between the two allies over the years, but that “we must move forward. The stakes are too high to dwell on the disagreements.”
The most recent rupture was triggered by an Interior Ministry panel’s approval of 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem during the visit of Vice President Joe Biden two weeks ago, a move condemned by the US. The two administrations were trying to resolve the dispute and lower tensions during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, but struggled to find consensus on the issue, which has complicated planned indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
While the White House might not have accepted Netanyahu’s detailed presentation on the zoning process in the Interior Ministry, whose decision he apologized for even though he said it took him by surprise, Lowey expressed understanding for the prime minister’s position.
“I think there’s a general understanding that Jerusalem is in a different category than the West Bank. And the issues surrounding Jerusalem, most agree, will be in the final stages of negotiations,” she said.
And, using Netanyahu’s nickname, she stressed, “Bibi has the support of Congress. It is solid. It is secure.”
In a sign of additional support for Israel and its government, as of Thursday afternoon well over half of the House of Representatives had lent their names to a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirming their support for the US-Israel relationship and urging the two countries to quietly resolve any differences.
While Netanyahu loudly and publicly reasserted Israel’s claim to Jerusalem in a speech he gave to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Monday night before visiting Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Lowey indicated appreciation for the different audiences he was addressing.
“How can he go to the end stage of any discussion and give away the store in the middle of a negotiation?” she said of his AIPAC speech, where Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world would be listening.
“With us, he was clearly focusing on distancing himself from these decisions and with humility expressing the view he wished he had more control over the process and that he was determined to change the process,” she noted.
Lowey also pointed to the different audiences that Arab leaders need to consider when they speak up, referring to a recent trip to the Gulf and the concern she heard about Iran.
In Saudi Arabia, she met with King Abdullah and came away with the understanding that “Saudi Arabia doesn’t believe the sanctions will work. Let me just say he’s supportive of pursuing other options.”
She also delivered the message that Arab leaders need to support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
“Abu Mazen doesn’t have, in my judgment, the [political] strength to make a deal,” she assessed, adding that without support from the wider Arab world, “It will be very, very hard to have a deal.”
Still, she said it was important for Congress to help Abbas and PA
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in their plan to build up local
institutions in the West Bank over the next two years to have the
foundations of a Palestinian state in place.
Right now, her committee is on track to approve $400 million in
economic aid for the Palestinians and $150m. for American Lt.-Gen.
Keith Dayton and his efforts to reform the PA security services.
Though she objected to incitement against Israel among the
Palestinians, including Fayyad’s own calls for Palestinians to shun
goods from Israeli settlements, she indicated that it wouldn’t disrupt
“We have very strong vetting language, very strong oversight,” she
explained. “We have to continue to do what we can to build up the
Palestinians so that they can function and can work with the Israelis
to bring this peace agreement to fruition.”