Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri is offering a decidedly different position from President Bush on Israel’s controversial West Bank security barrier.
Gephardt told the Forward that he has strongly supported the fence — regardless of exactly where it runs — ever since it was first proposed by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He said he does so because he has always viewed the barrier as “temporary.”
“As long as this is seen as a temporary measure, and sometime down the road there are negotiations, the exact location is not important,” Gephardt said in a telephone interview. “Ultimately, you have to negotiate borders. People who are saying [the fence] has to do this or that are seeing it as permanent. It’s not.”
Gephardt’s position differs with statements of the Bush administration, which has been pressuring Israel about its fence because the barrier veers over the “green line,” the old 1949 armistice line, to encompass at least two large West Bank settlements. The administration has said it may deduct what Israel spends on the fence from loan guarantees. Israel insists the fence is a necessary defense against suicide bombings, such as the one that claimed 19 lives in Haifa on Sunday.
“We have made it clear that the fence… is a problem,” Secretary of State Colin Powell told The Washington Post last week, in language that has been echoed by Bush. “If you want to put a fence on something that is a recognized border, the green line [which separated Israel and the West Bank before 1967], then put a fence on your property line,” the Post quoted Powell as saying. “But the more you intrude in Palestinian areas and the more it looks like it could be contiguous intrusion around large sections of Palestinian land that would prejudge subsequent negotiations as to what a Palestinian state may look like, that’s a problem.”
Gephardt’s position also differs from that of the Democratic frontrunner, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who sounds much like Bush on the subject. “I’m troubled by the fence, especially in the northern part of the West Bank, where it curls around and then goes deep into Palestinian territory,” Dean told The Associated Press late last month.
Gephardt said Israel’s fence was made necessary because of the failure of Bush’s road map for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“Everyone recognizes that [the fence] is not a substitute for a comprehensive strategy, which the Bush administration has failed to advance,” Gephardt said. “Israel cannot get what it needs out of the road map — increasing security — until it gets someone to negotiate with.”
For good measure, Gephardt rapped Bush for being soft on Saudi Arabia, which he said is funding and educating terrorists by supporting extremist Islamist schools. A measure against this, he said, would be a long-term energy policy lessening our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. He even suggested some reading on the topic: Robert Baer’s “Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude” (Crown) and Stephen Schwartz’s “The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’Ud from Tradition to Terror” (Doubleday).