April 29, 2014

Questions for Congress on Mideast peace

As usual, Congress is full of complaints, questions and demands -- especially regarding the Middle East peace process. Here are some questions Congress might try to answer this week:

1. How would Congress resolve the paradox of Palestinian representation? Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, expedited with U.S. support, making it the rightful representative of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli leaders, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, have repeatedly questioned Abbas’ legitimacy by pointing out that – even on a good day – he speaks for only half the Palestinians. If he is somehow able to cobble together a functional joint effort with Hamas support (if not outright “participation”) and/or if Hamas improbably accepts the conditions of the Mideast Quartet (the PA must recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and accept all prior agreements), Israel might truly have the credible negotiating partner it has long sought. Until September 1993, Israel banned all contact with the PLO, seen as a terrorist organization.

2. If a final resolution is vital to Israel’s long-term security and stability, how far will Congress go to back an Administration that’s seeking a workable outcome? Netanyahu, Abbas and most Members of Congress are publicly committed to achieving a two-state solution, using the 1949 Green Line (a.k.a. “’67 lines”) as a starting point for negotiations. Other terms are fairly well known, as are sticking points like the status of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem, and the final borders of Israel and a Palestinian state

3. Can Congress develop creative channels for supporting programs, possibly outside the official scope of the PA, in order to keep efforts moving on the ground?

4. Is Congress committed to legitimizing risk-takers for peace in the Middle East? Will Congress convene hearings on functional strategies toward peace, to flesh out and publicly empower change agents and those taking risks for peace? It should be possible to do so without undermining Israel’s interest, especially since such endeavors enhance Israel’s standing.

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