Congressman Steve Driehaus Visits Israel
In a private meeting with Jewish community leaders, Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) asserted that a nuclear Iran would not be tolerable, that it would be a tremendously destabilizing influence in the Middle East, and that the U.S. government should work with our allies to prevent the Iranians from completing their work on this program. He also said that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was deeply complex, he is optimistic that a peaceful resolution can still be found.
Rep. Driehaus made these comments following his recent trip to Israel with 28 other Democratic Members of Congress. The trip was sponsored by the American Israel Educational Foundation (AIEF), the charitable foundation affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIEF brought a similar group of Republican lawmakers to Israel last month.
Rep. Driehaus provided an excellent report of his visit, his first to the Jewish State. He shared with us a copy of the high-energy itinerary, a program that exposed the congressman and his colleagues to dozens of top-level speakers and site visits, including meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers, journalists and social commentators, scientists, business leaders and defense experts.
The congressman shared with us that as the trip concluded last week, he left Israel with a deep understanding of the complexities associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as a basic optimism that we will be able to meet the challenges ahead. Rep. Driehaus spoke eloquently and movingly about the new bond he feels with an Israeli society that emphasizes love of family, as well as his renewed appreciation for the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
In addition, Rep. Driehaus gave us his observations of several of the key issues currently facing the U.S. and Israel, including:
Rep. Driehaus's strongest comments - referenced in the opening paragraph - related specifically to the challenge of blocking progress on Iran's nuclear program, and the Congressman was clear in his view that our nation's role is to explore every way to prevent a nuclear Iran rather than figure out what to do if Iran goes nuclear. Although Iranian negotiators just this week signaled through the media that they are ready to reopen talks with world powers on this issue, most American and European policy makers and analysts dismiss this as "typical Iranian tactics" intended to ward off international pressure.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Rep. Driehaus also commented on the dynamics and reported tension between the American and Israeli governments over Israeli settlement policy and overall approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, and reassured us that our leaders are on the same basic page regarding the importance of implementing a Two State Solution to the conflict. The congressman elaborated with his own view that - given the crippling political divisions within the Palestinian leadership - a Two State Solution is more than difficult to implement at this time, as there are competing, seemingly un-reconcilable Palestinian factions controlling the West Bank and Gaza Strip as two completely separate entities, rather than as one unified Palestinian State-in-waiting. This view also found expression in a recent New York Times op-ed which illuminated one of the primary root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. The Congressman emphasized that - while the U.S. and Israel will continue to work out their differences over Israeli settlements - Israel is not the party holding up progress in the peace process.
Palestinian Progress in the West Bank
One of the principal causes for Congressman Driehaus's optimism is the economic progress recently reported in the West Bank. In addition to an increase in law and order, and overall Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, new Palestinian businesses are opening every week and the International Monetary Fund reported a 7% growth rate in the Palestinian economy. With the security and economic situation improving in the West Bank, the Government of Israel is facilitating greater freedom of movement by removing 2/3 of the barriers and checkpoints it had in place to prevent would-be suicide bombers from entering into Israel. In Northern Israel and the West Bank, Israeli-Palestinian social and economic partnerships are promoting grassroots cooperation as a bridge to improved relations across the spectrum. The West Bank looks much different than it did even just a few years ago, and one ray of hope is that this will serve as a model for what could be achieved in Gaza if a responsible Palestinian leadership were to emerge.
Prospects for Diplomacy
Although there were many reports of significant tension between the Obama and Netanyahu governments this summer, the two administrations are in fact working hard to arrive at mutual understandings regarding key issues. Israel appreciates the Obama Administration's efforts to persuade Arab States to agree to specific confidence-building measures equivalent to Israel's proposed temporary and partial settlement freeze. As of this writing, there are plans underway for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet with President Obama in New York at the U.N. General Assembly later this month. These proposed talks are being approached with guarded optimism, according to one Israeli analyst, who wrote that "After so many failed peace efforts, Israelis, and not only Netanyahu, want the assurance of a permanent peace through the recognition of the right of the Jewish nation to self-determination. This has always been the main source of the conflict."
Next in "Behind the Scenes"
With so much to report on regarding Rep. Driehaus's Israel visit, the latest Israeli-Palestinian dynamics and new developments in the effort to prevent a nuclear Iran, we didn't include our normal compilation of "beyond the conflict" stories about good things happening in the Middle East. Stay tuned for a second "Behind the Scenes" e-mail next week in which we'll bring you the latest in those areas.