Monday, May 29, 2006

House Wrong On Mideast

by the Madison Capital Times
May 26, 2006

Since the political wing of the militant group Hamas swept parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories, the United States and Israel have been trying to use economic pressure to force a change of course. Disregarding the democracy that President Bush says he wants to promote in the Middle East, the United States has sanctioned policies that have fostered chaos on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and created increasingly harsh conditions for people who have known more than their share of suffering.

Former President Jimmy Carter has decried the reaction to the Palestinian election. "It is unconscionable for Israel, the United States and others under their influence to continue punishing the innocent and already persecuted people of Palestine."

"Innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime," argues Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose involvement in the Middle East peace process has extended across three decades. "Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the United States government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life."

Unfortunately -- for Palestinians, Israelis and Americans -- U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and most of her fellow House members decided this week that they know more about the Middle East peace process than Carter.

Instead of checking and balancing Bush's misguided approach to an election result that displeased him, Baldwin and her colleagues are adding fuel to the fire.

By a lopsided vote of 361 to 37, the House voted Tuesday for the so-called "Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act," a measure so draconian that even the Bush administration opposes it.

The legislation, which still must be reconciled with a similar measure passed by the Senate, would cut off all assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and place conditions on humanitarian assistance delivered directly to the Palestinians by non-governmental organizations. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow, in restating the White House's opposition to the measure, says that it "unnecessarily constrains" the flow of essential humanitarian aid -- food, fresh water, medicine.

It also has the potential to encourage, rather than restrain, violence.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who was one of the few opponents of the legislation, rightly said that the approach endorsed by most of his colleagues will strengthen the hand of Palestinian extremists.

"It does little to prioritize on the basis of our strategic interests and provides no prospect for Palestinian reform coming through the process of negotiations," Blumenauer said. "In so doing, it weakens the hands of those who advocate for peace negotiations and supports those extremists who believe in violence."

Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now, which works closely with Israeli groups seeking a peaceful settlement of tensions with the Palestinians, calls the bill "an exercise in overreaching that will undercut American national security needs, Israeli interests, and hope for the Palestinian people if it's ever signed into law."

Despite its dramatic flaws, the bill drew bipartisan support. Among the backers of this bad legislation were Wisconsin Democrats Baldwin and Ron Kind, as well as Wisconsin Republicans Mark Green, Paul Ryan, Tom Petri and Jim Sensenbrenner.

Hopes by Americans for Peace Now to alter the legislation during the reconciliation process have been dimmed by the overwhelming House vote in favor of this misguided measure. It is especially disappointing that Baldwin, who usually gets international affairs issues right, got this one so very wrong -- and, in so doing, undermined prospects for peace and progress in the Middle East.

© 2006 The Capital Times

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