Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will fail to reach a lasting peace agreement with Israel, leading to another conflict in the Middle East, Sen. Charles Schumer predicted Sunday at a breakfast with Jewish leaders.
Noting that the prospects for Israel-Palestinian peace hinge on whether Abbas can crack down on terrorist factions and form a government committed to coexistence, Schumer said in his opinion, the answer is “frankly, no.”
There has been too much violence and hatred in the region’s recent history, Schumer said, and he feared “it’s going to take one more attempt by those on the Arab side to wipe out Israel, and then have it stopped by Israel, and maybe then they will be ready to make peace.”
The warning by New York’s senior senator, a leading Israel advocate, was curious because at first he described himself as “optimistic” about the peace process. His later assessment surprised many at the Jewish Community Relations Council’s annual congressional breakfast, held at the 92nd Street Y.
It was at odds with the generally upbeat, though cautious, mood at the event.
Speaking at the breakfast shortly after Schumer, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said recent events presented a “new window of opportunity.” Shalom cited the return of Jordanian ambassadors to Israel following a long absence; the death of Yasir Arafat and the downfall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein; a more moderate tone from Libya’s Moammar Khaddafy; and small steps toward democracy in Egypt.
As for Abbas, Shalom said he was “encouraged by the initial actions” taken by the Palestinian Authority chairman, “including his move to stop the firing of Kassam rockets [at Israeli towns from Gaza]. It took him only three hours to do what we had been asking Arafat for years.”
Schumer’s fellow New York senator, Hillary Clinton, said in her remarks that she was “cautiously optimistic” about the Abbas tenure.
“I’m impressed by the progress that has been made, and I’m very hopeful that the Palestinian Authority will continue to act with dispatch to dismantle terrorist operations,” Clinton said.
Clinton later told The Jewish Week, “More needs to be done … but as the foreign minister said, it took him just three hours to get rid of some of the radical groups. So I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude.”
Just back from a mission to Iraq, Clinton said she was planning another Middle East visit that would include Israel later this year.
As he left the JCRC breakfast, Manhattan Rep. Jerrold Nadler said he was “surprised” by Schumer’s grim outlook, but noted that high hopes after the 1993 Oslo Accords were promptly dashed by years of violence and broken promises.
“Maybe this time it will be different,” Nadler said. “I hope [Schumer’s prediction] is not true, but it’s too early to say.”
Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, a candidate in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary, has hired a team to manage her relations with the Jewish community.
Adena Berkowitz, a longtime aide to Mark Green when he was public advocate, worked on his mayoral campaign in 2001 and the gubernatorial bid by H. Carl McCall the following year. She also helped the John Kerry presidential campaign in New York last year.Arnold Linhardt is a former chief of staff to Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) and a longtime political consultant.Berkowitz said Fields, who is polling strongly in the race despite being initially dismissed by pundits, “understands the special needs of the Jewish community,” and has a history of working with Jewish organizations and funding their programs.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s opposition to the controversial Cross Harbor rail tunnel project, which he announced last week at a Queens civic group meeting, is bound to win him support in several neighborhoods along the route of the dormant railroad that would be revitalized by the project.
Nadler has been pulling for the tunnel for nearly 30 years as an assemblyman and member of Congress, insisting the freight railroad would reduce the number of trucks on the roads, and would keep food and other goods flowing into the city if the George Washington Bridge was indefinitely closed.
Opponents fear noise pollution as well as safety and security threats in the residential neighborhoods around the tracks, including Borough Park, where community leaders have repeatedly pressed the mayor to help derail the project.
In an interview Tuesday with Jewish radio host Nachum Segal of “JM in the AM” on 91.1 FM, the mayor said the project is “hard to justify in this day and age” because it would be too difficult to inspect rail freight that would be passing through heavily populated neighborhoods.
“I don’t think it’s the right project at the right time,” Bloomberg said, taking sides in what has become a bitter feud between Nadler and Borough Park Councilman Simcha Felder, an ardent opponent of the tunnel.
The city’s Economic Development Corp. is working on an impact statement that will carry some weight in whether the project wins federal transportation funding.
Felder, a Democrat, has become a close ally of the Republican mayor and said he is considering backing Bloomberg’s re-election. That would be Felder’s first political endorsement since taking office in 2001.
“I’m very gratified the mayor is responding to the needs of the community,” said Felder, who has accompanied Bloomberg to numerous appearances at Jewish venues lately, including the Segal radio interview and last week’s Siyum HaShas celebration at Madison Square Garden.
“I go around singing his praises,” said Felder.He insisted the mayor’s stance on the tunnel was not political. But Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an ally of both Felder and Nadler, said “some very key constituencies to the mayor in Queens and Brooklyn were opposed to it. There’s nothing like a political year.”
Bloomberg and Clinton were among the speakers last week at the National Council of Jewish Women convention here.
Clinton praised the group for its involvement in creating Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, a program that has aided kids from Russian and Ethiopian families living in Israel.
NCJW funded the research for the program through an institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and imported it to the United States. Clinton saw the program demonstrated as first lady of Arkansas in the 1980s and helped implement it in her state. The program is now used at more than 100 sites across the country, nurturing the social, emotional and physical development of 3- to 5-year-olds through a special curriculum.
“If you had not invested in the research, if you had not supported it in Israel, if you had not recognized its success … I never would have heard about it, and it never would have been established so strongly in parts of our own country,” said Clinton.
The organization also held a rally last Friday at the United Nations to launch its campaign against human trafficking, which affected 600,000 to 800,000 people worldwide in 2004, according to NCJW.