Misdirected Road Map
The ink wasn’t even dry on the draft U.S. “road map” for creation of a Palestinian state before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian adversaries were deriding President Bush’s proposal.
Assistant Secretary of State William Burns completed his swing through the region this week to explain the plan, and there were few hints of optimism in Washington as officials monitored the flurry of negative stories that followed Burns from capital to capital.
The road map calls for an international peace conference a year from now, the creation of an interim Palestinian state shortly thereafter and an effort to reach a final settlement by 2005.
The three-stage plan, ostensibly forged by the Mideast “quartet” — the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union —
also calls for the dismantlement of settlement outposts created since the start of the Sharon government.
Sharon, facing new chaos in his fractious unity government, told a Knesset committee on Monday that he accepts the broad principles of the plan but not many of its details. Specifically, the Israeli leader demands comprehensive Palestinian security reforms to end terrorism as a precondition for moving forward with the plan.
Palestinian officials complained that the road map wasn’t detailed enough, and that it was being pushed only halfheartedly by the administration as a way of keeping Arab nations in line as the United States prepares for war against Iraq.
“The key was the fact that they sent Burns and not someone with more stature,” said a leading peace process activist this week. “This plan will join all the other discarded American plans because the administration wasn’t serious in the first place.”
But Sharon knows better, according to a top Mideast analyst.
Stephen Cohen of the Israel Policy Forum, who has traveled extensively in the region in recent months, said the Bush plan matters greatly because it will make it harder for the Israeli leader to misinterpret the president’s landmark June 24 speech setting the U.S. on a course to support Palestinian statehood.
The road map puts Sharon on notice that Bush plans to pursue the entire proposal, not just the parts Israeli leaders favor, Cohen said.
“Sharon has said that he accepts the president’s speech,” Cohen said. “But the question is, what does he actually accept? It was a long speech with a lot of different parts.”
Sharon accepts Bush’s demand for an end to Arafat’s rule, Cohen said. “But does he accept the rest, which describes the process by which the Israeli occupation will be replaced by a democratic Palestinian state? And if so, does he understand how that will happen, and when?”
The unveiling of a U.S. road map, Cohen said, will make it harder for Sharon to selectively interpret the president’s plans.
“The president’s speech was supposed to be the great triumph of Sharon’s approach. Now, with this clarification by the administration, Sharon discovers that the speech doesn’t seem to mean what he thought,” Cohen said.
The road map, he said, will force Sharon to reveal positions that he tried to keep cloudy.
“It is my perspective that the road map is becoming a much more significant document because it is being greeted with such enthusiastic opposition,” he said.
Officials here say the administration was not discouraged by the negative reaction to the Burns mission. A more senior State Department official will be sent to the region to pitch the plan in several weeks, and a final version could be drafted by December.
Last week’s tragic death of Sen. Paul Wellstone threw the Minnesota Senate race into disarray and added more uncertainty to the too-close-to-call battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
Wellstone’s death, along with a Missouri race colored by the death of another Senate candidate two years ago, also could have a major impact on the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress, when lawmakers will make critical budget decisions that could affect Israel and a range of social service programs vital to the Jewish community.
The big question: Who will represent Minnesota during the special session, scheduled to begin Nov. 12?
Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent, is expected to announce an interim appointment shortly after Tuesday’s elections.
If the Nov. 5 winner is former Vice President Walter Mondale, Wellstone’s likely replacement on the Democratic ticket, Ventura will almost certainly appoint Mondale or some other Democrat to fill the remaining weeks of the term. But if GOP challenger Norm Coleman wins, Ventura would be under strong pressure to appoint the former St. Paul mayor or another Republican. That could tilt the balance to the GOP in a Senate that became evenly split between Democrats and Republicans with Wellstone’s death.
Another lame-duck complication is in Missouri, where Sen. Jean Carnahan, a Democrat, is locked in a close race with Rep. Jim Talent, a Republican. Carnahan was appointed to take the place of her husband, who was elected in 2000 even though he was killed in a plane accident only days before the election.
If Carnahan loses, Talent would take over immediately, since this is technically a special election. That could also affect this month’s lame-duck session, giving the Republicans one more Senate vote.
The stakes are potentially enormous. Congress has passed only two of 13 spending bills; to keep the government running, returning lawmakers will have to pass the others or roll them together into an omnibus spending bill.
“An omnibus bill is always a big risk,” said a prominent Jewish activist here. “Stuff gets thrown in, pulled out, and it takes months before people understand exactly what money was appropriated and what wasn’t.”
Of special concern to Jewish activists: $200 million in supplemental aid for Israel tucked into the House version of the foreign aid appropriations bill, and spending for a number of health and human service programs.
Lobbying And A Nosh
Downtown Washington has lots of attractions, but fine kosher dining is not among them. That’s a problem for the burgeoning army of observant Capitol Hill staffers, lobbyists, administration officials and other federal workers who face hunger and depressing bag lunches as they go about their business.
Enter Jack Abramoff, one of the city’s top lobbyists and pal to the GOP conservative elite.
Abramoff, who toils for the power firm of Greenberg Traurig, was tired of not having a nice place to bring clients for lunch. He was sick, too, of listening to one of the most persistent gripes of Jewish Washingtonians: “Why doesn’t this town have a decent deli?”
In the next few weeks, observant Washingtonians will get a taste of Abramoff’s response to this dilemma: two new glatt kosher restaurants using a single kitchen, only a few blocks from the Capitol, in a building that once housed a Planet Hollywood.
Stacks will be an “upscale New York deli,” the conservative lobbyist said. Archives “will be fine American cuisine.”
For Abramoff, the logic of becoming a restaurateur was simple.
“There’s a growing kosher consumer clientele that needs a nice place to eat, and there just wasn’t anything available,” he said.
His market research also pointed to the deli deficiency. “It became abundantly clear that everybody — kosher and non-kosher consumers — wanted a real New York deli,” Abramoff said. “People felt there was nothing else in the city that filled that niche.”
Abramoff said the twin restaurants promise to become genuine gathering places for Jewish politicos in town. He even promised to serve liberals.
Jewish machers said they won’t be surprised to see Orthodox activists using the restaurant to entertain GOP bigwigs like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Attorney General John Ashcroft, both among Abramoff’s pals.
Abramoff formerly held court at L’etoile, a fine kosher restaurant in the DuPont Circle area that closed after losing its lease.
The deli is tentatively scheduled to open Nov. 11, pending resolution of some issues with local kosher certification authorities.
Gala Hillel Opening
In one of the glitziest gatherings of Jewish wealth and power in recent memory, supporters of a revitalized Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life gathered downtown Sunday to celebrate the official opening of the group’s new world headquarters.
The crowd included the benefactors who have made the Hillel renaissance possible — people with names like Bronfman and Schusterman and Steinhardt. These dignitaries and the students on hand heard from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and White House domestic policy adviser Jay Lefkowitz.
In brief remarks at the opening ceremony for the $15 million building in Chinatown, Ginsburg said “it is fitting that Hillel will be housed in this fine new facility where students can come together and take pride and draw strength from their Jewish heritage.”
She described her own life as an example of the limitless opportunities for Jews in modern America.
“What is the difference between a New York City garment district bookkeeper and a Supreme Court justice?” Ginsburg asked. “One generation, as my life bears witness: the difference between the opportunities open to my mother, a bookkeeper, and those open to me.”
Lefkowitz, who has emerged as one of the strongest Jewish voices inside the Bush White House, used the occasion to lash out at the moral relativism that he said is pervasive at American colleges and challenged Hillel to provide a “moral compass” for students.
“One of the purposes of college is to get a moral education, to gain the ability to tell right from wrong,” he told attendees at a gala dinner. “Moral relativism and moral equivalence are wrong. Truly, some things are wrong and that must be dismissed out of hand.”
Lefkowitz praised Harvard President Lawrence Summers for speaking out against anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views on campus, and he charged Hillel to be a strong advocate for Israel and against the rising tide of campus anti-Semitism.