Thousands of pro-Israel activists in Washington this week are expected to urge lawmakers to sign a letter to the Bush administration calling for an end to all American contacts with members of the Palestinian Authority.
Observers who favor a more intense American role in the peace process are criticizing the letter — which is being circulated by Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada — saying that it essentially calls for an end to talks with moderate Palestinians, including P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas. Some Jewish and Christian groups have voiced their objections, including Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, Americans for Peace Now and Churches for Middle East Peace. The groups urged activists to contact lawmakers and ask them not to sign the letter.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is pushing the letter at its annual policy conference in Washington this week. About 6,000 Aipac members are taking part, many of whom will meet with hundreds of lawmakers Tuesday. In addition to the letter, Aipac activists will push pieces of legislation mandating tougher sanctions against Iran and ensuring financial aid to Israel.
The letter to Rice calls on the administration to oppose the Palestinian national unity government agreement between Fatah and Hamas unless the new government recognizes Israel, renounces terror, and adheres to previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians. It comes in the face of attempts by the European Union to engage the new government.
“We urge you to continue to hold firm and insist that these very basic international principles are not changed — no direct aid and no contact with any members of a Palestinian Authority that does not explicitly and unequivocally recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce terror and accept previous agreements,” the letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reads.
The White House has already made clear that it would not lift its ban on the P.A. until the Palestinian government accepts the three conditions. Yet the White House also declared that ties would be maintained with Abbas and other moderate Palestinians who accept the three conditions.
A Democratic congressional source argued this week that the wording of the letter should not be seen as a shift in policy toward the Palestinians and is consistent with the views expressed by both Congress and the administration since the Palestinian national unity agreement was reached last month. Yet other sources pointed to the fact that while former declarations regarding the new government referred only to the P.A.’s government, this letter talks about the P.A. as a whole and might be used in the future as a way to limit American ties with Abbas.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.