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Middle East Snapshot: Short interviews on Republican factor

Middle East Snapshot: Short interviews on the Republican factor

By Malcolm Aitken

The importance of US foreign policy to peace in the Middle East has been underscored yet again, this time by the crisis in Egypt.

The question of how much and in what ways the recent reconfiguration of power in the US Congress will affect Israel and the fight for Palestinian statehood is an important one to consider.

The Democrats and the Republicans, who took the House of Representatives in the recent mid term Congressional elections, and increased their numbers in the Senate from 42 to 47, share much common ground on Israel. You could say that bipartisan support for America to continue as a vital supporter (and funder) of Israel and guarantor of its security is integral to US foreign policy.

However, considerable disagreement exists between the parties on, for example, the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report – which was very critical of the IDF’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead, as well as Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Netanyahu’s stipulations on talking with the Palestinians. Republicans and conservative Israelis have relentlessly criticised Barack Obama for allegedly weakening ties with the state of Israel.

Two New Zealand academics with differing outlooks on Israel and the Palestinians were asked about what the GOP’s electoral gains may mean.

Dov Bing

Dov Bing is a Professor in the school of social sciences at the University of Waikato.

Nigel Parsons

Dr Parsons is a senior lecturer in Politics at Massey University.

Dov Bing

What is the new political configuration in the United States likely to mean in terms of continued funding for Israel by the Administration?

Dove Bing: The success of the Republicans in taking over the House of Representatives will mean little difference vis-à-vis US policy toward Israel. There is bipartisan support for Israel amongst Democrats and Republicans. It is true that the Tea Party Republican Senator Rand Paul has called for a cut in all foreign aid. Senator Paul has little support for this view. Even if there is a significant

across-the-board cut in US foreign aid, Israel will be able to manage. Its economy has been growing by 4.5 percent throughout the crisis period. One of the few OECD economies to have done so. This success has been largely due to Israel’s very successful high-tech sector

How much will the new Congress be able to, and want to, oppose and limit the President on requiring Israel to back down on the settlements and related issues?

DB: The Obama Administration is now trying to restart the peace negotiations without reference on the settlement policy. It appears, however, that the Netanyahu Government has virtually halted any settlement building.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is still seeking support to bring a declaration of statehood before the UN and the US congress has passed a resolution opposing this. What is your prediction…if there is a UN vote will the US veto it?

DB: The US Government has advised the PA that a declaration of statehood should come through negotiations not unilateral declaration. It is likely that the Obama Administration will veto this PA initiative. What is clear from the release from the Palestine Papers is how close the Palestinians and Israelis were to a peace agreement. The papers clarify that they negotiated on many very sensitive issues. Unfortunately the release of the Palestine Papers by Al Jezeera has undermined the credibility of the Palestinian leadership. It has shown the gap between public utterances by the Palestinian leadership and private negotiating positions. In the end, I believe, these revelations will act in the best interest of those who want peace.

The new Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner seems to want Obama to take a less conciliatory, more confrontational stand on Iran and its nuclear capability. How successfully do you think the Republicans will be able to put pressure on the president in relation to this?

DB: The new Speaker of the House John Boehner is very outspoken on the Iran issue and wants action from Obama. The release of the Palestine Papers shows that all the Sunni governments in the Middle East want the Americans to act as well.

Nigel Parsons

What is the new political configuration in the United States likely to mean in terms of continued funding for Israel by the Administration?

Nigel Parsons: Much of the funding is steady and independent of changes in government.

How much will the new Congress be able to, and want to, oppose and limit the President on requiring Israel to back down on the settlements and related issues?

NP: I imagine Netanyahu is pleased to see Obama weakened. But settlements advance regardless; Israel is structurally locked into settlement.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is still seeking support to bring a declaration of statehood before the UN and the US congress has passed a resolution opposing this. What is your prediction…if there is a UN vote will the US veto it?

NP: Yes, I expect the US will veto it. The US has a dismal record in this regard. But you never know.

The new Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner seems to want Obama to take a less conciliatory, more confrontational stand on Iran and its nuclear capability. How successfully do you think the Republicans will be able to put pressure on the president in relation to this?

NP: The nuance of most foreign policy falls under the administration's purview; the legislature may set a public tone but decision-making will largely get done by the executive.

*************

Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist. He can be

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