With less than 100 days until the Congressional elections, Republican dreams of taking control of both the House and Senate are giving nightmares not only to Democrats but also to those who want to see the Israelis and Palestinians make peace.
As the GOP tries to out-Israel the Democrats by taking an increasingly hard line, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida lawmaker who could become the next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) if Republicans win in November, is leading the charge by essentially proposing shutting down the peace process.
That was her reaction to last week’s State Department announcement it was upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s Washington office – officially the PLO mission— to a “General Delegation” and allowing it to fly the Palestinian flag, a move the Department spokesman called “symbolic.” Despite charges by some critics, the upgrade does not bestow “any diplomatic privileges or immunities,” the State Department spokesman said. The Palestinians already have similar status in Europe, Canada and several Latin American countries.
The move was cleared with the Israeli Embassy in Washington and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, which approved the decision, but that was apparently irrelevant to Ros-Lehtinen.
She quickly issued a press release declaring, “Instead of giving more undeserved gifts to the PLO, it’s time for us to kick the PLO out of the U.S. once and for all, and move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, where it belongs.”
“The unrepentant, unchanged PLO deserves no US concessions” such as flying “the so-called ‘Palestinian flag,’” she said.
That positions her well to the right of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not exactly known for his dovishness, as well as the majority of Israelis and American Jews but in line with the notorious bingo baron Irving Moskowitz, who has poured millions into highly controversial housing for Jews in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and other provocative projects.
Moskowitz, who rejects any peace with the Palestinians, is a top Ros-Lehtinen contributor, according to CampaignMoney.com. He and his wife donated over $20,000 to Ros-Lehtinen’s campaigns between 2006 and 2009, according the Federal Election Commission. This year’s figures are not yet available.
There’s no question that if she had her way and tossed out the PLO – which, like the Palestinian Authority, is headed by Mahmoud Abbas and is recognized by Israel – and moved the Embassy, whatever there is of the peace process would be destroyed. The Palestinians would be certain to walk out and would have the support of many countries.
Ros-Lehtinen is not just another uninformed freshman back-bencher who can get away with such rhetoric; she is the ranking Republican on HFAC and, if her party wins control of the House, would replace the highly respected and thoughtful Rep. Howard Berman (D-Californian) as chair of the panel that authorizes all foreign aid and is responsible for oversight and legislation related to foreign policy.
The Cuban-born Ros-Lehtinen, 58, is the senior Republican woman in the House and first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. She has close relations to the Jewish community and often speaks of her Jewish roots; her maternal grandparents were Sephardi Jews from Turkey, although her mother converted to Catholicism and she is listed as Episcopalian.
She is considered a strong supporter of Israel, but from the right, as her latest statement demonstrates, and she seems to be moving farther to the right of people like Netanyahu and George W. Bush, and closer to rejectionists like Irving Moskowitz – a dangerous and irresponsible course.
She is smart enough – Ph.D. in higher education – to know that throwing the Palestinian mission out of the United States and moving the American Embassy would scuttle any hopes of reviving the peace process. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama repeatedly authorized keeping the Palestinian office open and delaying the embassy move in their efforts to foster peace.
I can’t see how she thinks such statements are helping Israel, which she calls our “indispensable democratic ally.” Does she agree with Moskowitz that negotiations with the Palestinians are “a slide toward concessions, surrender and Israeli suicide?”
She could have rightly criticized the timing of the administration’s decision to upgrade the mission. It is premature so long as Abbas keeps producing excuses to stay away from the negotiating table and anti-Israel incitement in the PA persists. The new status was explained as an incentive, but it should have been held back and used as a reward after Abbas stops playing hard to get. Concessions seem only to whet his appetite for more.
Ros-Lehtinen has a safe seat and is a prolific fundraiser, so there is no excuse for a senior leader of the Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate policies certain to sabotage a peace process that successive American and Israeli governments of right and left have pursued since before she came to Congress. That is not responsible leadership.