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McCain Sounds Skeptical Note on Peace Process

The United States should support a “step-by-step” peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, presidential hopeful John McCain told an audience of Jewish leaders in New York this morning.

That cautious assessment, delivered by McCain during a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, brings the Arizona senator into the company of rival Republican contenders — most notably frontrunner Rudy Giuliani — who have sounded a skeptical note about prospects for the Bush administration’s recent efforts to jumpstart the peace process. At the same time, McCain stopped short of rejecting continued negotiations at this time, as Giuliani has done repeatedly before Jewish audiences in recent months.

“I think, obviously, we all do support a peace process,” McCain said. But “an all-encompassing, one-step solution was tried by former President Clinton, and I think that’s probably a very, very difficult accomplishment to say the least.”

McCain is only the second candidate to appear before the Presidents Conference, which also hosted Senator Sam Brownback before his departure from the race. But if the Arizona senator had a shot at generating new excitement among Jewish New Yorkers currently in the thrall of hometown favorites like Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, he didn’t seem eager to throw red meat. Unlike Giuliani — who has focused his remarks before Jewish audiences on the threat of Iran and the need to protect Israel — McCain’s stump script hewed closely to his well-worn defense of continued military operations in Iraq.

“I want to emphasize again… that if you believe the State of Israel is going to be more secure if the United States fails in Iraq, then we have an honest difference of opinion,” McCain said, after touching briefly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One of McCain’s leading supporters in the New York area, campaign finance committee member Ben Chouake, said the Arizona senator has “great credentials” to be commander-in-chief, but he added that Giuliani had impressed him as the Republican candidate with “the most sophisticated and mature” views on the peace process.

“I think [McCain] is still willing to negotiate, and I don’t think he quite understands how depraved Abbas is as well as Giuliani does,” said Chouake, who heads the pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC, speaking to the Forward via telephone. “I don’t think he has the clarity on the issues that Giuliani does.”

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