Washington - Two congressional letters strongly supported by the pro-Israel lobby have attracted a great deal of support in recent days.
Seventy-nine senators signed a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging the Bush administration to maintain its policy of denying financial aid and refusing to meet with the Palestinian government until it recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and accepts past agreements with Jerusalem. A similar letter to the European Union’s high representative, Javier Solana, was signed by more than half the members of the House of Representatives.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee pressed lawmakers in the House and Senate to sign the letters. Thousands of delegates to the Aipac convention in Washington two weeks ago raised the issue in meetings with congressmen.
The House letter was written by two Jewish Democrats, Robert Wexler of Florida and Gary Ackerman of New York, and by two Republicans, Elton Gallegly of California and Mike Pence of Indiana.
The House letter was delivered personally to Solana Tuesday in a meeting in Washington.
Observers in Washington said Aipac had a much tougher time lining up senators to sign the letter, written by Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and Nevada Republican John Ensign.
The initial language of the letter was seen by dovish Jewish groups and pro-Palestinian organizations as being too harsh and as excluding any negotiations with Palestinians, even ones who favor a settlement with Israel.
Several days after the signing campaign was launched, the letter was revised by its authors and a new version was sent out to Senate offices. Aipac officials said that the revisions reflected details in the final agreement on a Palestinian national unity government reached March 17.
One revision, however, did not relate to any new developments — the change from the “Palestinian Authority” to the “Palestinian government,” apparently making clear that signatories were not calling for a boycott of P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas.
Aipac sources said that the letter was well received, even in its initial version, by most lawmakers who were contacted by members of the lobby. Yet an internal memo of a staff member in Nelson’s office said that the revision was needed not only for updating the letter following developments on the ground but also to “clear up any misperception” regarding changes in American policy.
“This sentence was never meant to call for a cut-off of funds to the office of President Abbas and we hope you will agree that the revision clarifies that,” the memo stated.
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.