(photo credit: Photo: Courtesy: United States Congress)
WASHINGTON – A top Republican Congressman took a swipe at US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy in a well received speech to America’s largest pro-Israel lobby Sunday.
Calling the Palestinian culture one “infused with resentment and hatred,” US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blamed that mindset as the obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, not border issues as highlighted by Obama in recent days.
“It is this culture that underlies the Palestinians’ and the broader Arab world’s refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” he declared. “This is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the ‘67 lines.”
Obama sparked controversy in the pro-Israel community when he called for the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps to be the basis of a Palestinian state on Thursday and again on Sunday before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference.RELATED:Barak: Obama's speech lets us leave differences
behindAnalysis: Obama’s interpretation of
Cantor’s words to AIPAC later that day about the conflict’s root causes earned a 40- second-long standing ovation from the 10,000-odd members of the crowd, one of the most enthusiastic receptions of any line at the conference.
He also made a pointed remark that, “Israel deserves America’s friendship in reality, not just in rhetoric. Words and promises come and go. Only deeds count.”
And now, he said, is the time for action and the time “to lead – from the front,” an apparent dig at an Obama adviser who talked of “leading from behind” when it comes to the US policy of building a coalition on Libya.
Though Obama received a warm welcome on Sunday morning, it was well eclipsed by Cantor’s reception. The highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress was repeatedly interrupted by applause and cheers from the audience.
Earlier in the day, a Democratic Congressional leader also pleased the crowd by hitting some of the same policy points, including on the threat from Iran and bedrock support for Israel’s security.
US House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer also spoke about the peace process.
“I believe in Palestinian statehood, but I stand strongly against a solution that is declared unilaterally. Peace cannot be imposed. It must be negotiated” he said.
“And we must speak with crystal clarity that we will not compromise or temporize with an alliance that includes terrorists and international criminals.”
Israel had been troubled that Obama’s comments on the 1967 lines on Thursday did not touch on the need to take into account new population centers – understood to be major settlement blocs – or rule out a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, as had a 2004 letter by former US president George W. Bush, which also referenced those lines.
Speaking ahead of Obama, who on Sunday did refer to new demographic realities but did not address the refugee issue, Hoyer said, “If that peace and security are to exist, Israel’s borders must be defensible and reflect reality on the ground, and Palestinian refugees must have the right to return to their new state.”
Hoyer also stressed that the US must “ensure that Israel’s security funding is provided in full,” a statement that comes as the Republicanbacked House has been looking at cutting foreign aid, though aid to Israel has so far not been touched.
AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, in his own address Monday morning, praised Obama for his words Sunday, clarifying some of those issues that most troubled Israel, such as demographics.
“It is so important that America and Israel work out whatever differences arise between them privately, and when tensions arise, that the leaders work together to close those gaps,” he said to applause.
“The president’s speech to us yesterday reflected just such an effort to close those gaps.”
Kohr stressed that a bedrock principle in the USIsrael relationship was trust between the two countries’ leaders, and warned that any outward appearance of eroding confidence between Washington and Jerusalem would upend the peace process.
“Israel is the one with the most at risk in the peace process, and unless Israel’s leaders know that America will be there to back Jerusalem in the most difficult times, they must be far more cautious in their quest for peace,” he cautioned.
“If Israel’s foes come to believe that there is diplomatic daylight between the United States and Israel, they will have every incentive to try to exploit those differences and shun peace with the Jewish state,” he added.
Another cornerstone of the US-Israel relationship, Kohr said, was for America to play the role of honest broker. ‘That should not be confused with even-handedness,” he said.
“Part of being an honest broker is being honest. One party in this process is our ally, with whom we share values and strategic interests."