Washington Watch: Can the GOP block a Palestinian state?

Republicans have their own agenda: make sure Obama fails. That is likely to take precedence over anything the Israelis and Palestinians may want.

By D. BLOOMFIELD
October 2, 2010 22:32
4 minute read.
HOUSE MINORITY Leader John Boehner of Ohio

Boehner 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Opponents of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are hoping last week’s end to the settlement moratorium will ignite a construction explosion across the West Bank that will force Mahmoud Abbas to keep his oft-repeated and self-defeating threat to scuttle the nascent peace process.

Barring that they look for Republicans to win control of the Congress in the November elections and do the job for them. The Obama administration is frantically seeking a compromise that will allow Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Abbas to back out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into and keep the talks going until the next crisis.

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A big problem for those groups on the Jewish Right is that unlike the 1990s and the Oslo peace process, this time they don’t really know what Netanyahu wants.

“We don’t know what Bibi is privately telling people. Is he saying ‘help me back out of this’ or ‘this time I’m serious’? We just don’t know what his real intentions are,” said a House Republican staffer.

In the nineties Netanyahu, as opposition leader and then prime minister, worked closely with the House Republican leadership under Rep. Newt Gingrich to thwart the Oslo process launched by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In fact, after leaving office, Netanyahu boasted that he had killed Oslo.

THIS TIME Netanyahu didn’t inherit the peace process. It’s his. He is the one who froze settlements, embraced the two-state solution and demanded direct talks with the Palestinians. He will carry the mantle of success or failure.

But Republicans have their own agenda, as trumpeted by Rush Limbaugh: make sure Barack Obama fails, whatever it takes. That is likely to take precedence over anything the Israelis and Palestinians may want. Not that Republicans oppose peace so much as they hate – yes, that’s the word – Obama.

Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, recently said he sees no difference between Bush and Obama in support for Israel, but don’t tell that to Republicans.

We’ve already seen some senior House Republicans try to toss a wrench in the negotiations by introducing legislation to close the PLO office in Washington and send its representatives packing. That was led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who is in line to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a Republican Congress.

Interviews with Republican and Democratic staffers, past and present, suggest a strategy of death by a thousand cuts. A lot of “mean and petty mischief,” said one.

As the majority, Republicans would have the power to hold hearings, issue subpoenas and pass legislation, although they’ll lack the numbers to override most presidential vetoes.

As a pre-1996 election ploy, Republicans wanted to show Sen. Bob Dole (RKS) was a better friend of Israel than Bill Clinton by pushing legislation to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Every time Clinton used his waiver authority to delay the move the Right attacked him as anti-Israel, but they were silent when George W. Bush issued 16 such waivers. With Obama in the White House, Republicans are trying to remove the President’s waiver authority and challenge him to veto the bill.

“They can’t make him sign new Jerusalem legislation but they can try to put him in a position where he will have to veto it, and he won’t want to do that,” said a former Senate GOP staffer.

“Look for people to get creative and drop things in bills the President has to sign.”

There will be “stand with Israel” resolutions, amendments and letters intended more to embarrass the administration and create tensions with the Palestinians than to shut down the peace talks, which many care little about. Israel is more their bludgeon than their cause.

“The Republicans will try disruptive tactics to anger and provoke the Palestinians into walking out, like linking their aid to recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland,” said a House Democratic source. “Look for them to move quickly to put sticks in the spokes of the peace process, not just to appeal to their hardline supporters but to do anything to thwart Obama policy.”

A former Bush administration official and Jewish activist said, “Republicans would do anything and everything in their power to right what they feel is wrong – Obama’s pro-Palestinian tilt; the administration has gone way the other side. They can try to play around with funding and create such a ruckus that it will be hard to operate. They can become a huge menace.”

If the peace talks produce results, Washington will need to provide aid to both sides, organize security forces and help resettle refugees, and Republicans could try to impede that by blocking funding or adding poison pills, said a House Mideast expert.

Some lawmakers are being told by hardline Jewish supporters that these talks are destined to fail because Abbas is too weak and Netanyahu is being forced by Obama to sell out Jerusalem and needs rescuing, said one Hill source.

My friend Aram called from Tel Aviv the other day to tell me he can’t wait for the Republicans to win control of Congress “so they can shut down this damn thing.”

They may try, but Republicans won’t be able to kill the peace process if the Palestinians and Israelis want it to continue and are willing to work to make it succeed. That won’t stop them from tossing their grenades, but their real target is not the Israelis or the Palestinians but Barack Obama, and defeating him is more important than peace in the Middle East.

bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com


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