Friday, December 24, 2010

Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman to ‘show Israel that we are strongly in its corner'

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following statement today about the importance of United States security assistance to Israel:
“Republicans will not use security assistance to Israel as a political tool to excuse separate, unsubstantiated increases in U.S. development aid across the board. Security assistance to Israel advances our security priorities and the return on our investment in this critical U.S. ally is clear, unlike many other of our overseas programs and operations.

“Security assistance to Israel is a top priority for Republicans because our Members understand that it is a vital investment which enhances our nation’s security interests and is a force-multiplier of our efforts to combat extremism in the Middle East. Charges to the contrary are baseless and politically-motivated.”

HILARY LEILA KRIEGER from Jpost has a write up of conversation with the Republican Florida Representative:
For Ros-Lehtinen, security for Israel meshes with other US national security priorities.

“We need to help Israel, we need to show Israel that we are strongly in its corner,” she stressed.

“I think she’ll be terrific on Israel relations issues. I don’t think there’s anybody better,” assessed Morrie Amitay, former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and currently the head of the staunchly pro-Israel Washington Political Action Committee.

“She’s 100 percent behind making Israel secure. I can’t think of any issue affecting Israel in which she hasn’t been on the right side,” enthused Amitay, whose PAC has funded her campaigns generously over the years and who was close enough to her to attend a celebration in honor of the PhD in education she received from the University of Miami in 2004, 15 years into her tenure in Congress. Ros- Lehtinen started out as a teacher and principal before running for the Florida state legislature and then the US House.

And her roots don’t only extend to Cuba. Her maternal grandparents, who were Jewish, fled Turkey for Cuba, making her Jewish according to Jewish law. He mother ended up converting to Catholicism to marry her father, and she now considers herself Episcopalian.

But Ros-Lehtinen dismissed the idea that her religious background has had any influence on her attitude toward Israel. In fact, she said that she doesn’t like to talk about her Jewish heritage because it can lead people to question her stance on Middle East issues – as well as view her as opportunistic. Her district in southern Florida, after all, has a healthy contingent of Jewish voters.

“I don’t talk about it because people then think, oh all of the sudden... she’s discovered Jewish roots. But I didn’t just discover it,” she explained, “I would have the same thoughts and the same attitudes if I did not have Jewish ancestry.”

THOSE ATTITUDES include strong support for aid to Israel despite a Republican climate hostile to spending, in which foreign aid is seen as particularly vulnerable. Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the threat, saying, “I don’t know what the leadership wants to do in terms of levels of funding. If they say 5 percent across the board for everybody then that’s the way it is.”

But she also suggested ways of securing Israel aid by having it considered separately as security assistance.

Those prospects, however, don’t sit well with Democrats who are concerned about the implications of distinguishing aid to Israel.

Others on the progressive side of the Jewish community are concerned about her posture toward the Palestinians.

While Ros-Lehtinen said she supports a two-state solution, she expressed concern that current US policies were leading toward a three-state solution as the Palestinians fracture between Hamas and Fatah. She considers Hamas, which openly calls for the destruction of Israel, much more extreme than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent. But she made clear that doesn’t mean she holds them in high regard.

“This feeling that Abbas and Fayyad are the good guys, if they’re the good guys then we should start praying for Israel’s safety right now, because these are folks who have not wanted to be true partners for peace,” she declared. “They do not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a free, democratic, Jewish state.

They will not abide by prior commitments, they will not sit and negotiate with Israel.”

And she was particularly troubled by the way the US has provided financial assistance to the PA.

“They know they don’t have to do a darn thing; with this administration they will get a blank check and they will always get helped out,” she said. “Try looking at their budgets and try examining where they’re using their money and where our US dollars are going.

If you track US dollars, you’ll never find out where that money goes.”

Her stance on the PA, as on many issues, puts her at odds with the White House, but Ros- Lehtinen isn’t one to shy away from confrontation. In this case, her statements come just as the Obama administration has emphasized state-building as a way of continuing progress on the peace process after talks stalled when Israel refused to extend a settlement moratorium and the Palestinians refused to have direct talks without a freeze in place. The program, which trains PA security forces and builds governing institutions, is heavily premised on the notion that Abbas and particularly Fayyad are men of peace.

“Prime Minister Fayyad has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time under very difficult circumstances,” maintained Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a recent event outlining the American commitment to continue to support his program. “Along with President Abbas, he has brought strong leadership to the Palestinian Authority and he has helped advance the cause of a two-state solution by making a real difference in the lives of the Palestinian people.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s opposition could make it harder to get upward of $200 million in annual funding for the PA budget approved, as well as other paths of assistance to the Palestinians.

ROS-LEHTINEN has also been scathing when it comes to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, another major source of funding for Palestinian civilians provided largely by US government donations.

The money is intended to fund schools, hospitals and other basic services for Palestinian refugees, but Ros-Lehtinen labeled it “a propaganda tool to bash Israel” and has included language tightening American oversight of any funds it gives to UNWRA.

The legislation would also forbid the US from holding a seat on the UN Human Rights Council – a forum for repeated attacks on Israel – and would hold back a proportionate share of America’s UN contribution for any funding to the council unless the State Department certifies that member countries aren’t human rights violators and terror sponsors.

Ros-Lehtinen’s UN oversight legislation languished when it was first introduced in 2007.

Now at the committee helm she expects it to move, and will soon hold hearings to draw public attention to what she views as a host of UN ills, including outright anti-Semitism.

Still, the Obama administration reversed a decision made under George W. Bush to participate in the council and prizes multilateralism, making it unlikely to back her measure.

But from Ros-Lehtinen’s perspective, “If Cuba wants to fund the UN Human Rights Council, have at it. We should not be funding it.”