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Party Convention Highlights GOP Skepticism About Mideast Peace

St. Paul, Minn. — Although the Bush administration says that it is trying to reach a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate by the end of this year, Senator John McCain and his surrogates all but ignored the issue in their presentations to Jews attending the Republican National Convention.

In closed-door meetings with Jewish activists, several leading Republicans said that progress on the peace process was not likely and will not be the focus of the next administration.

“They made clear it is not on the agenda. Their main focus is Iran,” said a Jewish organizational official who attended several of the meetings taking place around the convention.

The message went out in late August, a week before the convention began. For example, in an August 27 conference call with 45 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries from different states, McCain repeated his determination to prevent “another Holocaust” and touched on the challenge of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism. But he didn’t mention the peace process at all — even though U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the region that very week.

“Senator McCain is a strong supporter of peace in Palestine,” said Kori Schake, McCain’s deputy foreign policy adviser. “However, he also believes a negotiated peace requires a partner on the Palestinian side and there are some reasons for concern on this side. Senator McCain doesn’t believe we need to sacrifice the security of Israel in order to reach an agreement.”

The Republican platform, approved at the convention, mentions the issue only briefly, stating, “We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine.” The platform goes on to demand that the Palestinians renounce terror and move toward democracy in order for the two-state solution “to become reality.”

The reluctance to embrace the American-sponsored peace process seems to reflect the views of some in the Republican foreign policy elite. Former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger, speaking at an event sponsored by the International Republican Institute on the sidelines of the St. Paul convention, said that the next administration will have to keep in mind that “the U.S. is not the solution to all the world’s problems.” Eagleburger, who served in former president George H.W. Bush’s administration, added that John McCain “is not going to run the world from the White House.”

But if Israel’s policy was largely ignored by the GOP presidential nominee, it was a subject for both vice presidential candidates. Sarah Palin, who as governor of Alaska had no exposure to Middle East policy, made a point of meeting with pro-Israel activists and pledging her support for strong American ties with the Jewish state. Though Palin was a no-show at many other public events, she did join Senator Joe Lieberman for a 45-minute meeting with leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“She expressed her support for the special friendship between the two democracies,” said Josh Block, the lobby’s spokesman. Block also praised Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, saying that “Aipac is pleased that both parties have selected four pro-Israel candidates.”

In a September 3 conference call with Jewish media outlets, Biden forcefully rejected claims put out by the Republican Jewish Coalition that his voting record has not always been consistent with the line of the pro-Israel lobby. “I take a backseat to no one, including Aipac,” Biden told reporters, adding that “Aipac does not speak for the State of Israel.”


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