During the Congressional recess this month, approximately 80 members of the United States House of Representatives are visiting Israel to establish greater relations with perhaps America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.
The American presence is groundbreaking in scope; it focuses upon several longstanding issues, chief among them the fight for Palestinian statehood. The visit coincides with recent protests in Tel Aviv, Israel, where an estimated 200,000 Israelis are demanding higher taxation upon the rich and a “right to Housing.”
Conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck, who is leading a “Restoring Faith” pilgrimage to Jerusalem later this month, compared the protesters to “communists” and suggested that new housing settlements in the West Bank could assuage protesters concerns.
Beck’s last point—Israeli settlements in the West Bank, long has been a point of contention in the fight for Palestinian statehood. The West Bank, parts of which are referred to as Judea and Samaria by Jews, has been occupied by Israeli forces since their success during the Six Day War in 1967.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a longtime Palestinian statehood supporter, has previously argued that if Israel eschews a Palestinian state in favor of a one-state solution where Palestinians have certain rights in Israel, that the same could lead to either “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” or the “end of the Jewish state as Palestinians would vote in bloc.”
Carter’s dire warnings have not stopped Palestinians from seeking formal statehood, with a petition set to be delivered on September 20th to the United Nations’ Security Council. It is expected that Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas will seek to have Palestinian territory ceded back to pre-1967 borders.
Israel, already threatening to boycott the petition, is seeking to turn American sentiment in its favor since the US sits as a permanent member of the very Security Council that will make the ultimate decision. As such, scheduled US-Israeli talks will include meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and President Abbas, while also focusing upon the nuclear ambitions of Iran, whose leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has issued incendiary rhetoric about Israel’s right to survive amid his personal belief that the Holocaust was a hoax.
The congressional delegation is bipartisan, with 55 Republicans being joined by 26 Democrat members. New York Republican Representative Michael Grimm, a House Freshman, said that “Coming here and being able to feel it and touch it to fully understand how daily life is for an Israeli is important.”
Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) perhaps best summarized the magnanimity of the visit, suggesting that “No one fails to go to Israel without a better understanding of the birthplace of the three major religions.”
While the congressional delegation hopes to foster greater understanding and good will among both Israelis and Palestinians, the key to any lasting progress remains in how effective the Obama administration can be in balancing the best interests of the Middle East with those of the US.
The unknown factor remains President Obama and his supposedly strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly disapproves of the president’s previously stated support for Palestinian statehood based upon pre-1967 borders.
Representative Eric Cantor, (R-Va.), praising the bipartisan congressional delegation in Israel, stated that “the White House and president have not been as clear as where it stands and he stands on the relationship, and that has added interest on the part of the members.”
With the 2012 election drawing near, Mr. Obama will be forced to clearly define his relationship with Israel should he wish to fare well among
Jewish voters, a demographic that supported him in large numbers despite persistent, false allegations that Obama was a Muslim during the 2008 campaign. Should Mr. Obama fail to outline his vision for the Middle East from the perspective of a viable and peaceful Israel, he could suffer tremendously in Florida, a valuable swing state that easily could fall into Republican hands should Jewish voters question his previous affirmations that the US-Israeli relationship is “sacrosanct.”