Jewish groups skeptical over Annapolis

American Jewish official: Israel visit by Bush just "tacked on" to Persian Gulf mission.

Annapolis 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Annapolis 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
While US President George Bush visits Jerusalem and Ramallah this week to advance the discussions begun at Annapolis, American Jewish organizations are quietly expressing mixed feelings about Bush's first state visit to Israel. The disagreement goes beyond political views regarding land concessions, and centers around the question of the feasibility of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In a letter to Olmert expressing overall support for the Annapolis process on the eve of Bush's visit, the American Jewish Committee said it was "mindful that the obstacles to early resolution of the conflict are formidable - in part because of the bifurcation of authority among the Palestinians, but also because of the extreme sensitivity of key issues, such as the future of Jerusalem." Delicately, AJC president Richard Sideman and executive director David Harris express "understanding" that "until Palestinian political realities are altered, the process launched by you [Olmert], President Bush, and President Abbas in Annapolis is likely to be constrained." But more vehemently and directly, a senior American Jewish official from another organization who asked to remain anonymous said he believes the trip is merely "tacked on" to a Persian Gulf trip, and amounts to "more show than substance." According to the official, "people said Bush wouldn't be personally engaged after Annapolis, and he wants to show he is." The trip's significance, according to the official, "is in building up the coalition of moderates among the Gulf states after the embarrassment of the NIE." Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, believes that "American Jews are hopeful that the Annapolis process will lead to constructive steps," but, "like the people of Israel, they are skeptical given past performance on the part of the Palestinians. They don't see compliance even on incitement and security issues. But American Jews understand that it's not going to be an instant, radical overnight change, but takes time to develop." Some of the skepticism has come in the form of criticism of the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), which advocates increased American involvement in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as a way to advance the peace process forward. According to the critics, the IPF advocates American pressure on Israel to force it to compromise. As one illustrative complaint, coming from a prominent American Jewish official, recently put it: "The IPF is seen by many as a one-mantra organization: 'more US involvement, more US involvement, more US involvement,' and they say this irrespective of what's actually going on in the Middle East. All the inconvenient truths that might complicate the picture - a map in Abbas's office that doesn't even show Israel, incitement in the Palestinian Authority, the recent involvement of Fatah personnel in terror acts in the West Bank - all seem to be minimized if not ignored because they cloud the [IPF's] picture. It's that doctrinaire or ideologically-driven approach that is a turnoff to many who support the peace process but whose eyes are more open." the official. IPF president Seymour Reich rejects the criticism. "We do not have our heads in the sand. We understand that there's a real world out there, and Abbas has not been able to bring security to Israel or the West Bank. We would never want Israel to do anything that would compromise its security. And any end result must acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state and that Palestine is for Palestinians. That's a critical aspect, and if that can't be reached," negotiations will be fruitless, said Reich, adding: "But Abbas is the only game in town." According to Reich, "Annapolis gives hope, and it's important for Israel and the prime minister [Olmert] to enter into negotiations and discussions with Abbas and the Palestinians to see if they can arrive at an outline of what an ultimate peace arrangement would look like. According to the prime minister, Israel is going into this with an open mind, taking into account its security needs. In that sense, we support it." In comments written last week, MJ Rosenberg, director of the IPF's Washington Policy Center, urged the American president to take a proactive role in the discussions, lamenting that "neocons" had "thwarted" Bush peace overtures in the past. Rosenberg wrote: "Neither Israelis nor Palestinians, both dependent on America, can say 'no' to a determined American president. All it takes is presidential will. We'll see soon if Bush has it." But Reich insists the IPF does not advocate American pressure on Israel. "Pressure is not in our vocabulary. For us security is paramount. If Abbas cannot deliver on security, we're not foolish enough to say to Israel, 'do it.'" Continued Reich: "We believe Bush should get involved, should huddle with the parties, but it's clear that not everything the president and the secretary of state [Condoleezza Rice] wanted has come to fruition. Witness settlements and illegal outposts. Jerusalem has felt it's not in its ability at this time to address that issue. Notwithstanding the president's consternation, clearly Jerusalem will determine its own destiny."