US Democrats meet with Peres

President discusses peace process, Pollard with US delegation; Democratic whip: US will veto Palestinian statehood bid at UN.

Shimon Peres 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Shimon Peres 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The esteem in which President Shimon Peres is held beyond Israel’s borders manifests itself not only in the extent to which foreign media want to interview him, and the number of invitations that he gets from foreign counterparts to visit their countries, but also the reverence and awe with which he is addressed by visiting dignitaries who come to the President’s official residence to meet with him.
Thus on Wednesday, Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip of the House of Representatives, who led the first of three United States Congressional delegations that will be visiting Israel this month, under the auspices of the America-Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), told the 26 members of his delegation: “We are in the presence of a very historical figure.”
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Describing Peres as active, able and one of Israel’s staunchest defenders and promoters, Hoyer went on to further characterize him as “Israel’s wise man” and “one of the world’s great men,” whom he credited with “extraordinary depth” and praised as a person of peace reaching out to those people who wished him ill and inviting them to make peace.
This is the fifth Congressional delegation that Hoyer has led to Israel. Hoyer’s first visit was in 1976, which is when he initially met Peres, who was then defense minister. Hoyer quipped that Israel kept creating ministerial positions for Peres to fill.
“He has been minister of everything, and minister of all,” he said.
Hoyer went on to tell Peres that Eric Cantor, the House majority leader of the House of Representatives would be in Israel next week with a large Republican delegation.
Although the Democrats and the Republicans have a lot of partisan differences he said, they are united on issues related to Israel and he and Cantor had together sponsored a resolution that affirmed and articulated unyielding support for Israel and urged the Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table without pre-conditions as quickly as possible.
Hoyer presented a parchment copy of the resolution to Peres, and said that every member of his delegation had supported this resolution.
Earlier, he had told reporters that the resolution clearly puts the US on record as being opposed to a United Nations unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State, because such a declaration was not a positive step. If necessary, he said, the US would use its right of veto in the UN Security Council.
Peres said that he did not know how to adequately say thank you to the Americans for their generosity towards Israel.
“We will never forget this bipartisan support,” he said, and underscored that notwithstanding its own problems, the US never forgot its responsibilities to other people in the world.
Peres, expressed condolences on the recent deaths of 38 American soldiers in Afghanistan and lauded the bravery of American troops who have saved the world from great dangers. It was admirable that despite its economic difficulties, he added, no-one had suggested that the US reduce its global commitments or its democratic way of life while searching for solutions to its economic problems.
Some people say that the strength of the US is shrinking, said Peres.
"I don’t think so,” he assured his guests. “It’s just that the problems are getting larger.”
One of the problems that is getting consistently larger, is the scarcity of food. America is the only country that pays serious attention to the rest the world and constantly works towards alleviating poverty and hunger and helps people to come out of tyranny and oppression, said Peres.
Hoyer asked each of the delegates to introduce themselves, and as they did so, they also spoke of being overwhelmed by Israel, stating that the visit was a real eye-opener which had enabled them to learn a lot.
Some also spoke of Jewish and Israeli connections in their home districts.
Yvette Clark, an African- American from Brooklyn, New York, noted that her district was also known as “Little Israel.”
Peres said that he did not know how to adequately say thank you to the Americans for their generosity towards Israel.
“We will never forget this bipartisan support,” he said, and underscored that notwithstanding its own problems, the US never forgot its responsibilities to other people in the world.
Looking at the turmoil in the region, Peres said the election of new presidents and new parliaments would not serve the interests of the people.
What was needed, he said, was a change in the structure of society.
“Without that, nothing will change,” he insisted.
Ever optimistic, Peres said that he believes that peace will come. Getting to it is problematic, but it is attainable, he added.
Everyone is hoping that a democratic system will eventually prevail throughout the Middle East, but said Peres, while democracy in the West means freedom of expression, for the people of the Middle East it means self expression because so many educated people have not been able to put their knowledge, skills and talents to use.
Peres, who is constantly in touch with the Palestinians, made this known to the delegation and stated that there is a difference between public declarations and what the Palestinians say privately.
There is an understanding that the alternative to peace is to make more mistakes and that it was essential to resume negotiations before September, he said, voicing a wish that Israel and the Palestinians could come together to the Arab world and say “this conflict has got to stop.”
From his personal conversations with the Palestinian leadership, Peres said that he was not sure that they are convinced that they should go to the UN, “because to have an empty declaration is just an extension of the debate.”
Moreover, if the Palestinians are united with Hamas, and Hamas fails to renounce terror, the Palestinians will lose their donors.
It is important, he emphasized, to maintain strength against terrorist minorities, and to continue support for democracies.
Meanwhile, in the street outside opposite the president’s residence, a group of demonstrators – including several dual nationals with both Israeli and American citizenship – were holding up placards, waving American flags and shouting “Free Pollard Now!” While most high-ranking dignitaries from the US tend to avoid demonstrators on behalf of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for espionage, Hoyer had no such inhibitions, and before meeting with Peres, stopped to talk to the demonstrators.
He subsequently explained to The Jerusalem Post that the Pollard issue is a legal matter to be discussed by the legal systems of the US and Israel, and that there was not much that he could do.
Other members of the delegation spoke to demonstrators after the meeting and received printed material relating to Pollard’s case and his deteriorating health.
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