Bush, Sharon Don’t Press Differences
By all accounts Tuesday’s White House meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President George W. Bush went well — in large measure because the two leaders did not press their differences, including a big gap over Yasir Arafat’s role as an ongoing peace “partner” and the administration’s determination to press ahead with Palestinian statehood.
“It was a very good meeting; there were differences, but these were the differences of friends who ultimately want the same thing — peace and security,” said an Israeli official. “From our point of view, things went very well. The prime minister was very happy.”
But the positive mood was shattered when aides handed each leader a note informing him of the terror bombing in the Rishon Le Zion gaming hall.
But it wasn’t until Sharon and Bush faced reporters in a photo opportunity that the extent of the deadly bombing was known.
The Israeli leader quickly abandoned plans for meetings with Jewish organization leaders in New York on Wednesday and announced an immediate return to Jerusalem to convene his cabinet to set a response to the deadly bombing, the first since the sweeping Israeli military action across the West Bank aimed at breaking the back of the Palestinian terror infrastructure.
But at a hastily called news conference late Tuesday night, a drawn, angry Sharon left little doubt the reaction would be a strong one, and that Arafat was the man he held responsible for the ongoing terror.
“Today, in the face of all our sincere efforts to move forward on the political path, we received another proof of the true intentions of the person leading the Palestinian Authority,” he told reporters.
Throughout his visit, Sharon refused to refer to Arafat by name.
“He who rises up to kill us — we will preempt it and kill him first,” he said.
He said that “Operation Defensive Shield was a vital and important stage in the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure. The operation has yielded tremendous achievements. But our work is not done. The battle continues and will continue until all those who believe they can make gains through the use of terror will cease to exist.”
In response to a question, he said that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not ask how Israel would respond to the resumption of terror attacks, and that they had not urged Israeli restraint.
Despite the new terror attack, Sharon said he hoped to go ahead with the proposed regional peace conference, tentatively scheduled for this summer.
In their White House meeting, the two leaders continued to disagree over Arafat’s role in future negotiations.
Asked whether he told Sharon that he should talk directly to Arafat, Bush said that “I’m never going to tell my friend, the prime minister, what to do on how to handle his business. That’s his choice to make. He’s a democratically elected official. And I’ll reiterate: I have been disappointed in Chairman Arafat. I think he’s let the Palestinian people down. I think he’s had an opportunity to lead to peace and he hasn’t done so.”
But he repeated a persistent theme of the administration this week — that Arafat’s failings make it “important for all of us to work out a way to develop the institutions necessary for there to be a Palestinian Authority that’s got the capacity to keep security, but, as well as a Palestinian Authority that’s got the ability to help promote hope for the future of her people—that there’s an education system that works, a health system that’s vibrant.”
Before word of Tuesday’s bombing, the president announced that he was dispatching CIA director George Tenet to “help design the construction of a security force, a unified security force, that will be transparent, held accountable.”
Sharon, in contrast, argued for “structural reforms” in the Palestinian Authority seemingly intended to minimize Arafat’s role.
The two leaders also disagreed over Palestinian statehood. The administration, under mounting pressure from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has reiterated its “vision” for statehood; the Israeli leader continues to insist Arafat has not earned it.
“I think it’s still premature to discuss this issue,” Sharon said at a White House photo op. “I think what we have to concentrate on now is making every effort that real reform will take place.
Sharon At ADL
The timing of Sharon’s trip was a boon to the Anti-Defamation League, which held its annual leadership meetings in Washington this week — and managed to snag the prime minister at the last minute.
Sharon had been expected to attend the recent conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but had to remain in Jerusalem and addressed the group via a remote television hookup.
In his speech to the group, the Israeli leader repeated his contention that Arafat’s hands are too dirty to be a genuine peace “partner,” and his demand for “major institutional, structural reforms” in the Palestinian Authority. … A responsible Palestinian Authority that can advance the cause of peace should not be dependent on the will of one man.”
In his ADL speech, Sharon also embarrassed the White House when he publicly thanked the administration for its help in getting out of the “trap” of an aborted UN investigation into Israel’s actions in Jenin.
It is widely assumed that the administration helped thwart what Israel said was a one-sided investigation in return for Sharon’s decision to free Arafat from confinement in Ramallah — but officials here didn’t want their help advertised.
The ADL had another last-minute addition to the program: Secretary of State Colin Powell, who reportedly agreed to address the group because of his longstanding relationship with ADL national director Abraham Foxman.
In his Monday speech, Powell mostly steered clear of hot Mideast topics during his Monday appearance. Instead, he used his speech to the group to plead for tolerance.
“So much of the misery, danger and instability around the world today is caused or exacerbated by intolerance, whether it’s in the Middle East, Southeastern Europe, or Central Africa,” he said. “And whenever ethnic and religious hatred help to fuel a conflict, it becomes all the more virulent and intractable with respect to finding a solution.”
But he did sketch out the administration’s broad three-pronged plan for the region, which includes a “restoration of security from terror and violence for Israelis, and for the Palestinians as well,” addressing the “urgent humanitarian needs” of the Palestinians and promoting serious and accelerated negotiations.
“All three elements need to be integrated: security, a political way forward, and humanitarian and economic activity,” he told the group.
Congress Vs. President
Just when it seems Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s stock has sunk to record lows in Washington, it plunges even lower.
That happened again this week, only days after both houses of Congress passed strongly worded but nonbinding resolutions expressing solidarity with Israel and frustration with ongoing Palestinian terror.
Last week’s House resolution was the tougher of the two, citing Arafat’s “ongoing support of terror” and the Palestinian Authority’s involvement in the Karine A arms smuggling scheme, “an effort that irrefutably proved Arafat’s embrace of the use and escalation of violence.”
The administration had pressured congressional leaders to hold up the resolutions, but both passed by overwhelming margins. In the Senate, only Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va) and Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) voted no; in the House, 21 members voted against the Israel solidarity measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the House majority whip.
All but four of the no votes in the House were cast by Democrats; four came from lawmakers from Michigan, a state with a large concentration of Arab-American voters.
But during the congressional debate, even those lawmakers long considered unfriendly to Israel did not rise to Arafat’s defense. The only real concession to administration concerns was language in the House resolution encouraging the international community to “take action to alleviate the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.”
This week the gap between the White House and Congress over the issue appeared to grow.
A bipartisan House Armed Services Committee delegation told Israeli leaders to resist any new pressure from the Bush administration. The delegation included Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.), Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Rep. Joe Hoeffel III, (D-Pa.) and Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.).
The lawmakers gave Sharon a memento: a framed photograph of the World Trade Center in the midst of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tuning In To Domestic Issues
For most Jewish groups, the continuing crisis in Israel has trumped every other public policy concern. But domestic issues haven’t disappeared. In fact, Congress is currently working on a number of bills that could directly affect the lives of many Jews.
Senate Democrats are promising to bring a new hate crimes bill to the floor before Memorial Day.
The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), would extend the coverage of current hate crimes laws to include crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation, gender and disability. It would also remove requirements that victims be involved in some federally protected activity for the crime to be covered by the statute.
The measure is a top priority for gay and lesbian groups, as well as for the Anti-Defamation League, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Jewish Committee.
Recently Congress passed a sweeping — and controversial — farm bill that included something Jewish groups have been seeking for several years: the restoration of food stamp benefits to legal immigrants.
Those benefits were cut by the 1996 welfare reform law. The recent action means that up to 360,000 immigrants, including many Jews from the former Soviet Union, will have access to food stamps next year.
But other benefits for legal immigrants are a big bone of contention as both Houses debate reauthorization of the 1996 law, a process that must be completed by the end of September.
A number of governors want the reauthorized law to ease restrictions on the use of federal money to provide benefits to legal immigrants. But the Bush administration is fighting hard to retain all cuts included in the 1996 law.
“They passed the 1996 bill on the backs of legal immigrants,” said Reva Price, Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). “Those cuts are what paid for welfare ‘reform.’ Now it’s time to reverse that.”
And supporters say the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA), the long-delayed bill to make it easier for workers to meet their religious obligations without risking their jobs, may be about to emerge from the shadows.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has agreed to serve as lead GOP sponsor for the measure, which could be introduced in the next week or two.
“As the third-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, we are optimistic Rick Santorum’s involvement in the WRFA effort will get us the results this cause deserves,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs.
But like every other domestic initiative, WRFA supporters face an overcrowded congressional calendar and an agenda loaded with national security issues.
Holocaust And The Law
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is bracing for the summer tourist rush. But behind the exhibits, officials are raising the institution’s visibility as a force against the kind of intolerance that can lead to genocide.
This week a group of 20 judges from New York state — mostly from the New York City metropolitan area—were at the museum for a first-ever program to examine the Holocaust through the lens of the law.
The two-day session, organized with the Touro Law Center, included tours of the museum’s permanent exhibition, sessions on medical crimes and their legal implications, and “The Police as a Supra-Legal Executive Force in Nazi Germany.”
Participants met with survivors and with Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), one of the moving forces behind the event.
Next week, the museum’s “Committee on Conscience” will hold its second daylong conference on genocide prevention. The session will feature Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and several leading human rights experts.