It was just another Tuesday on Capitol Hill. A handful of Members of Congress and staff showed up to hear a briefing by a trio of revanchist Israelis pushing for permanent occupation of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. Everyone in the room nodded with approval and flipped through what amounted to a colorful brochure promoting de facto annexation of the valley put out by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA).
Invited by Republican House Foreign Affairs Chairperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinin, the talking heads from Israel’s security establishment honed in on a permanent presence in the valley, which reportedly makes up about a quarter of the West Bank.
But the panelists — former Israeli UN Ambassador and JCPA chief Dore Gold and former Generals Uzi Dayan and Udi Dekel — also argued for continued Israeli control over more territory.
Many justifications were given for Israel’s eternal presence in the Jordan Valley: “strategic depth”, “Israel’s doctrine of self-reliance”, a region “engulfed in flames”, the examples of the unilateral withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon, and guarantees from U.S. political figures.
Notably omitted were three other justifications: the valley’s resources, the ideological, religious and nationalist motivations of the settler movement (Israeli domestic politics), and the obstacle that holding the valley presents to a negotiated two-state solution (Palestinians are unlikely to make any deal that cedes so much of the West Bank’s already shrunken territory).
The weight of these unmentioned factors against security concerns was put on stark display last fall when President Barack Obama reportedly offered Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu U.S. support for a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley as part of a wide-ranging package of incentives in exchange for a two-month freeze of settlement construction in the West Bank. Israel rejected the offer.
The panelists also raised other issues facing Israel, including the “diplomatic assault” (an effort to have a Palestinian state recognized by the UN General Assembly), Iran’s nuclear program and Dayan’s recasting of David Frum‘s “evil axis” to include Turkey and, before the dust has settled, potentially Egypt.
Dayan sounded the alarm about Egypt, intimating that the Muslim Brotherhood was bound to take over and criticizing his host nation for not propping up deposed president Hosni Mubarak. “You were too fast to turn your back on Mubarak,” he said. “You should be careful to support your friends.”
Only a few members attended the briefing. They included Ros-Lehtinen, ranking member Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) and freshman Reps Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Jeff Duncan (R-SC). A few staffers populated the 25 or so seats, as did right-wing pro-Israel activists Noah Pollak of the Emergency Committee for Israel and Noah Silverman of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
For the freshman, the briefing provided an opportunity to rub elbows with powerful Israeli players and pro-Israel activists. “I’m looking forward to educating myself on those issues,” said Duncan from the dais, proving the seriousness of his intent by citing Hamas’s — not Hezbollah’s — worrisome presence in Southern Lebanon.
Before leaving the briefing room, Berman, the only Democrat, admitted that his question about the Lebanese Armed Forces was a “softball.”
Berman’s much-acknowledged presence gave a bi-partisan seal of good-housekeeping to a briefing otherwise dominated by Republicans. The “‘members’ briefing” — which is not an official hearing — has been used by Ros-Lehtinen since her days in the minority to air views that she could not get previous chairpersons to open up debate on.
The mechanism of a “members’ briefing”‘ also means that only the organizers of the meeting choose the witnesses. In a normal hearing, Democrats would be allowed to bring their own witness to the hearing although Berman’s presence and ‘softballs’ indicate that perhaps a Democratic witness was unlikely to be any less to the right.) The other reason for making it a ‘briefing’ was that no real U.S. government business was discussed. the whole proceeding was just the delivery of a wish list from the Israeli right.
Nothing new to see here. Just bipartisan defense in Congress for policies — pushed by the Israeli right, the pro-Israel lobby, and neoconservative activists — that are almost certain to drive the last nails into the coffin of the two-state solution.