Sunday, March 12, 2006

AIPAC of hounds baying for blood -and Cheney leads the hunt

CHENEY at AIPAC conference.
Eight standing ovations for vice president most Americans hate.

AFIF Safieh used to talk about American politicians competing to be pro-Israel - if one said he was "100 per cent behind Israel", the next would say he was "150" or "200 per cent" behind the Zionist state. Afif, who was head of the Palestinian general delegation in the UK (ambassador in all but name) will be observing the auction at first hand now, having been promoted to Washington. Right now there isn't even an election on in the United States, - though there is in Israel - and yet the competition isn't a joke.

Under the pretext of isolating Hamas - which despite winning an election fair and square is still deemed as just a "terrorist" organisation (as the PLO was before), pro-Israel lobbyists are backing a bill — the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 — that bans all non-humanitarian American assistance to the Palestinian Authority and prohibits official American contacts with the P.A. unless Hamas recognizes Israel and renounces the right to use violence.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC) has brought hundreds of supporters to lobby on Capitol Hill, holding almost 500 meetings with legislators and their staff, to urge members of Congress to endorse the bill.

But the New York Jewish weekly Forward reports that Israeli officials say it could be a serious mistake to pass the bill before a Palestinian government has been formed and before the March 28 Israeli elections.

"They argued that at this point the bill could end up limiting the diplomatic flexibility of the new Israeli government in dealings with the new P.A. regime. In addition, Israeli officials said, the bill may place the onus of providing for the well-being of the Palestinian population on Israel, the occupying power in the territories. The bill could also result in the cancellation of several internationally funded aid programs in which Israel has a vital interest, in fields such as public health, water and sewage".

" 'Israel has not decided what to do yet. An elected government will have to do that,' said an Israel official who attended Aipac's annual policy conference this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's really too early to make such decisions," the official said. "Israel, the U.S., the international community all need to wait and see what Hamas does and how things play out, and then decide if to engage with the Palestinian government and on what level."

Rather than openly oppose the campaign by their enthusiasts in Washington, Israeli officials are assuming the Bush administration, along with some lawmakers, will work to scale back some of the proposed restrictions.
The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell and Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden, makes a distinction between Hamas and the P.A., allowing interaction with non-Hamas members of the Palestinian government. It also makes some of the sanctions on the P.A. discretionary rather than mandatory.

The bill introduced in the US House of Representatives last month and in the Senate on Tuesday, imposes tougher rules than the ones set by Israel's transitional government. It calls for Bush to certify that a set of conditions are met before federal money can be appropriated, including institutional changes in Palestinian media and textbooks. The Palestinian government is required to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, a demand never posed by Israel or the international community to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Egypt or Jordan when they signed peace agreements with Israel.

At Aipac's conference last week the organization's director for legislative strategy and policy, Ester Kurz, took part in a panel discussion on whether to dismantle the United Nations Refugee Relief and Works Agency (UNRRWA).
With closures and massive unemployment many more Palestinian families are desperately dependent on UNRRWA aid now. Israel fears it may have to take responsibility for feeding people. But Palestinians and international sympathisers fear nobody is prepared to make America's favopurite do anything.

The US administration has already said it will suspend aid for economic development in the Palestinian territories when Hamas takes office. With Israel tightening its armed grip around the remaining Palestinian areas, and acting Israeli prime ministers Ehud Olmert saying the annexation wall will be a permanent border, the plan to withold humanitarian aid as well as funds that are owed threatens to turn the territories from a mockery of autonomy to besieged ghettos.

US aid workers have already been told to have nothing to do with the Palestinian Authority. Forward quotes Peter Gubser, president of the American Near East Refugee Aid, about a USAid-funded program to rebuild, train and improve well-baby care clinics in the territories. "We were told [by USAid] to drop the government clinics and move to NGO and Unrwa clinics," Gubser said. Most clinics in rural Palestinian communities are P.A.-run, which means that the majority of Palestinian newborns and their mothers in more than 500 villages in the West Bank won't have easy access to such clinics.

Another example is a project to prevent bird flu, which involves cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli scientists. "We have been working on doing some prevention and detection. That is also now on hold," said Liz Sime, West Bank and Gaza director at Care, a charitable organization fighting poverty worldwide that has signed a two-year contract with USAid to deliver services in the territories costing $10 million.

The anti-flu project cannot proceed because it necessitates contacts with Palestinian health ministry officials, Sime said in a phone interview from her office in East Jerusalem. "You can't do proper surveillance without working through an official national body," Sime said, adding that Israeli public health officials "have communicated their concern" to Care over the freezing of this project.

Israelis Want Aipac-Backed Bill Softened, By Ori Nir, Forward, March 10, 2006

Whatever the consequences and calls for caution, and whether or not official Israeli concern is genuine, AIPAC officials are in a hurry to get their legislation through, making no concessions to distinction between contacts with Palestinian political leaders ("terrorists") and civil servants, or civil and humanitarian concern, even issues like avian flu which could have international effects.

It would be easy to dismiss AIPAC as just a bunch of extremists, to the Right of many Israelis and the majority of Americans, including most Jews in the United States (who past polls have shown supportive of a two-state peace, and opposed to the Iraq war). There was enthusiastic applause at their conference for a relayed address from Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, promising to build "an iron wall" around Hamas. Messages from Israeli Labour leader Amos Peretz and even Ehud Olmert were recieved more coolly. But the warmest reception was given to US Vice President Dick Cheney, who must be grateful that amid his plunging popularity ratings (even below george Dubya) he can count on these supporters.

Forward reports:
Cheney — a bugaboo of the left for his role in the Iraq War — spoke for more than 35 minutes at the conference Tuesday. He stressed the need to stand firm against Islamic extremists, including the newly formed Hamas government in the Palestinian territories, and Iran, whose president has vowed to "wipe Israel off the map."
"The United States will not be a party to the establishment of a Palestinian state that sponsors terror and violence," the vice president said, adding, "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
Cheney's personal approval ratings have dropped to below 20%. But the vice president was received enthusiastically at the Aipac conference, drawing 48 rounds of applause from the 4,500 assembled delegates — including eight standing ovations. When he took the podium, the crowd stood and cheered for almost a minute".

(Pro-Israel Activists Cheer Cheney: Embattled Bush Team Gets Boost At Aipac Parley By E.J. KESSLER, Forward, March 10, 2006)

It can't be the money. Cheney must already be one of the richest men in America, having continued to collect his paychecks from Halliburtons long after entering his government job. There was a time when Big Oil, represented by leaders like Cheney and Bush, and some in the military, worried that standing too close to the Zionist Lobby might be bad for America's Middle East interests. But these days they can carry on doing business with the Saudis, etc., with seemingly nothing to worry about, while counting on the lobby and the Christian Right to back their aggressive foreign policy.

No wonder these hounds are slobbering, for blood as well as oil.



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