The Other Wye Battle: Aid
Saturday’s Sharm el-Sheikh agreement will put new pressure on lawmakers to appropriate the $1.9 billion in extra aid promised to help implement last year’s Wye River accord.
But with Congress heading toward a bloody budget shootout with the administration, supporters of the package face an uphill battle for reasons having nothing to do with Mideast policy.
With Israel’s newest West Bank redeployment scheduled to begin in a matter of days, administration sources say they’ll begin lobbying immediately for the package, which includes a whopping $1.2 billion to help Israel pay the heavy costs of withdrawing forces from new West Bank land and setting up new security outposts.
Lawmakers support the concept of extra aid, especially for Israel, but appropriating real dollars will be a problem as Congress and
the administration fight over GOP-sponsored tax cuts, plans for spending the current budget surplus and restrictive 1997 budget caps that allow almost no latitude in government budgeting.
“The major challenge is that the aid package is part of the larger budget and tax discussion,” said Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “There’s a significant divide between the administration and Congress. The good news is that there appears to be strong sentiment regarding the Wye package; the bigger issue is how to pay for it.”
AIPAC lobbyists and other pro-Israel activists will be seeking creative ways to pay for the new aid to get around the current budget impasse, he said.
“It will be a real challenge,” he said. “It will require patience; this will not be a quick or easy process because of the magnitude of the resources involved.”
AIPAC, he said, “supports all three components of the package — for Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. We want to see it treated as a single entity.”
The Palestinians were promised $400 million as part of the Wye negotiations; Jordan is due to get an extra $300 million. But more militant groups say they’ll press Congress to add new strings to Palestinian aid.
“We believe the aid should be used as leverage to insure Arafat honors the ‘Sharm’ agreement,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. “He must show seriousness about collecting illegal weapons, arresting terrorists and stopping the incitement in media and textbooks; we will be asking that the aid be used as leverage.”
Agreement Undercuts Embassy Effort
The Sharm agreement, which calls on both sides to avoid unilateral actions that could disrupt the final-status negotiations that are due to resume almost immediately, may also slow efforts by some lawmakers to force the administration to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The agreement doesn’t say anything about U.S. actions on critical final-status items, but congressional sources say that with the talks on Jerusalem about to begin, lawmakers are more likely to defer to President Bill Clinton’s explicit request that the embassy debate be deferred in the interests of the peace process — and the almost-explicit request by Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
“As long as there’s progress in the region, the majority of the Congress will listen to the prime minister,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League. “So it is unlikely there will be a showdown on this issue in the near future.”
Congressional sources say the issue will be kept at a low simmer at least until Israel and the Palestinians complete the “framework agreement” laying out final-status negotiations. Israeli and Palestinian leaders optimistically say that could happen in February, with detailed final status talks to begin after that.
Jews on the Move
Jewish activists have been taking advantage of the late-summer pause in politics and legislation to play career musical chairs. Some examples:
Ralph Grunewald, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s director of external affairs, is so “external” he’s leaving the Museum. Grunewald will take over as assistant executive director for policy and program at the American Jewish Committee’s headquarters in New York.
Grunewald has figured prominently in the museum’s diplomatic efforts, including the controversial negotiations with Poland over the future of the Auschwitz-Birkenau site. At the AJC, he will oversee the group’s expanding international portfolio.
Rob Bassin, a longtime pro-Israel activist who most recently served as chief of staff to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), is going back to the lobbying group where he started his career as a intern — AIPAC. Bassin will serve as political director, replacing Michael Bloomfield, who has moved on to the polling and consulting firm headed by Democratic guru Mark Mellman.
And, proving that Jewish reporters are more adaptable than many readers think, Matthew Dorf, former Washington bureau chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, has signed on as Washington director for the American Jewish Congress.
Dorf replaces David Harris, now associate executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC).
Al Moses — the former president of the American Jewish Committee — has been tapped as special presidential emissary for Cyprus. His job: to promote a comprehensive settlement between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
And President Bill Clinton recently announced several appointments to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Returning appointees include Stanislaus Blejwas, a Central Connecticut University professor specializing in Polish studies; Menachem Rosensaft, executive vice president of the Jewish Renaissance Foundation; and Benjamin Meed, a longtime leader in the survivors’ community.
The new member of the Council will be Susan Estrich, currently a professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California Law center and the onetime campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988.
AJCongress Escalates Gun Debate
Polls show that the public is increasingly concerned about gun violence, but lawmakers, returning from their summer recess, appear determined to do as little serious legislating on guns as they can get away with.
The American Jewish Congress has decided it’s time to escalate the debate. Next Tuesday the group will announce a national “Stop the Guns, Protect our Kids” petition drive. The goal: one million signatures on a petition that presses for much tougher gun measures than Congress is currently considering.
The AJCongress effort will demand mandatory Justice Department background checks before every gun sale — at gun shows and through both unlicensed and licensed dealers — and the registration of every gun by some federal, state or local agency. The group will also demand mandatory safety devices on all weapons sold.
That, the AJCongress leaders believe, will tap into rising voter frustration — a feeling that they say is being ignored by an NRA-dominated Congress.
Next week’s kickoff will feature news conferences in 10 cities, as well as the capital. Participants will include the widow and 7-year-old son of former AJCongress regional director Jack Berman, who was killed in a 1993 shooting in San Francisco.
“This isn’t pegged to any specific legislation,” said the group’s new Washington representative, Matthew Dorf. “But it is saying there’s a crisis in this country; the gun crisis is affecting all Americans. We believe enough is enough.”
The Jewish group will invite other faith communities to participate in the drive.
Dorf rejected the notion that the AJCongress is tilting at political windmills. The epidemic of the gun violence, he said, demands more than the routine pronouncements and timid legislating that have dominated the debate so far.
“It’s time for the bold steps,” he said. “The American people clearly want them, and Congress has to hear from them.”
In the meantime, Jewish groups here will be actively promoting the mild, Senate-passed gun control legislation included in a juvenile justice bill about to go before a House-Senate conference committee.
Pat, George Worry Jewish Republicans
Many Jewish Republicans are convinced they have a winner with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who continues to lead a swarm of under-financed rivals by a big margin.
But they’re also watching with concern the party’s minuet with columnist-turned-candidate Pat Buchanan.
Party officials worry that Buchanan could prove a spoiler by jumping to Ross Perot’s Reform Party. That would drain off important votes from the religious right.
But their efforts to keep him inside the Republican tent won’t do much for the Jewish GOPers’ efforts to lure more Jews into the party.
Last week Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson indicated he hopes to meet with Buchanan in an effort to preempt the columnist’s rumored bolt. Numerous other party leaders have been telling Buchanan that his defection to the third party would only help the Democrats.
But if the GOP leaders succeed in keeping Buchanan in the party, it could hurt their chances with Jewish voters — chances that were looking better than usual with the moderate Bush in the frontrunner slot and the social conservatives seemingly on the ropes.
“Any association with Buchanan is a bad thing for Jewish Republicans,” said Chuck Brooks, executive director of the National PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee. “People see no good reason for party leaders to have anything to do with him. There will be a lot of disenchantment.”
The Buchanan question also figures into the battle for control of the Reform party between founder Ross Perot and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. The bulked-up former wrestler, the only Reform party candidate ever elected to statewide office, opposes Buchanan’s nomination — presumably because he sees a presidential race in his own future. Perot is said to favor it as a way of undercutting the popular Ventura, who threatens to eclipse the party founder.