Skip to comments.Chafee, Laffey differ on Mideast
Posted on 04/16/2006 9:25:40 AM PDT by got_moab?
WASHINGTON -- Already at odds over the war in Iraq, U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee and Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey are emerging as bitter opponents on another key foreign policy issue, the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians.
Chafee, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Middle East, is among a handful of senators who often dissent from measures calling for support of Israel and sanctions against its enemies. Supporters call Chafee a courageous voice of independence from the pro-Israel lobby who is willing to prod Israel to take difficult actions needed for peace.
They praise Chafee for having warned that a U.S. failure to press Israel firmly enough toward peace would risk the election of Hamas -- a party advocating Israel's destruction -- to lead the Palestinian Authority. Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January.
Critics say Chafee's record puts him outside the mainstream of strong U.S. support for Israel. Morrie Amitay, a Laffey supporter who leads Washington PAC, a pro-Israel group, said Chafee is not an effective leader on foreign policy. Laffey calls him "weak on terrorism."
The senator replied last week that his "dogged" support of the peace process is in Israel's long-term best interests. Laffey's criticisms are those of a "demagogue," he said.
As Chafee's Republican challenger, Laffey advocates a pro-Israel stance so strong that it sometimes puts him in the minority. After Hamas won the elections, for example, he came out against granting even humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority until Hamas renounces its violent opposition to Israel's right to exist.
(The Bush administration has closed the regular channels of American aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. But it has increased the flow of humanitarian aid to be delivered to the Palestinian people through the United Nations and other organizations.)
Critics say Laffey's positions make him captive to the pro-Israel lobby. A prominent Arab-American lobbyist, James Zogby, accuses Laffey of "trolling for money and votes" from Israel's supporters.
Chafee said in an interview last week that Laffey appears to be a member of the Christian right whose support for Israel is inspired by the Bible.
Laffey called that statement "bizarre." He said his views on Israel are informed by the facts of modern history, such as Adolph Hitler's slaughter of European Jews and the invasion of Israel by neighboring Arab nations in 1967.
Laffey, a newcomer to national politics, frames his position in broad strokes that emphasize attacks on Chafee. But he refuses to say where he stands on certain key aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In recent interviews, for example, Laffey repeatedly deflected questions about the "road map," a peace effort to which President Bush, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and other interested governments committed themselves in 2003.
Brown University political scientist Darrell West said it is unlikely that Rhode Island's Republican primary will draw many voters who view Israel policy as a top issue. But if the primary is very close, he said, it won't take many voters to make a difference.
Zogby, of the Arab-American Institute, a lobbying group, said that Chafee is carrying on the "independent" legacy of the late Sen. John H. Chafee. Chafee acknowledged his father's exaple but said he has made his own study of the Middle East. He generally praises the peacemaking efforts of successive U.S. administrations.
But Chafee was an early critic of what he has called the Bush administration's lack of sufficient engagement in the peace process. Chafee applauds the administration's embrace of the road map process but has charged that the United States has not done enough to get Israel to follow it.
Chafee has argued that the death of longtime Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat in 2004 and the succession of Mahmoud Abbas were opportunities for peace that Israel failed to exploit. Chafee said the United States shared the responsibility for the failure to help Abbas win enough concessions for his people to consolidate his Fatah Party's power.
The result, Chafee said, was the Hamas victory in January's Palestinian legislative elections. Now "we're in a very, very difficult, almost no-win situation," Chafee said.
While applauding Israel's earlier withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Chafee has repeatedly criticized two central aspects of Israel's occupation of the West Bank -- and the Bush administration's role.
First, Chafee argued that a "land for peace" deal is the key to the creation of a Palestinian state that would respect Israel's right to exist. More specifically, he said the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank are lands that must be negotiable under the terms of the road map.
Israel has failed, in Chafee's view, to meet its obligation under the road map to stop creating new outposts of settlers and to begin dismantling certain existing settlements. The Bush administration, he charged, has not backed up its expressions of concern with action to push Israel to take these steps.
Secondly, Chafee objects to a crucial aspect of the security barrier that Israel is building to protect certain lands: the route that barrier would take through Palestinian areas.
He argues that the proposed pathway would split the Palestinian population and block Palestinian access to Jerusalem in ways that would make a Palestinian state economically and culturally unworkable. Chafee suggested during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year that the barrier's path would "jeopardize the vision of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state."
Chafee said Laffey has shown himself to be a demagogue by "distorting my positions for personal gain." One example: Laffey criticized Chafee's statement after Arafat's death that Arafat's involvement in peace efforts during the 1990s was "positive."
"That's a total misreading of history," said Laffey, adding, "I would dekcribe Arafat as a terrorist."
Chafee said Laffey "makes too much" of the "vanilla" language in his pro forma statement about the death of an important figure. Chafee noted that Arafat was a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. But Chafee woud not say whether he thinks Arafat deserved the award.
Chafee also asserted that Laffey's view of Israel -- like that of some Republican senators -- is inspired by Scripture. For these Senate Republicans of the Christian right, "the West Bank being Biblically designated as the Promised Land is an issue," Chafee said, citing the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. "I'm not going to name names," he said of his colleagues, "but there's no doubt in my mind."
Chafee was asked how he knows that Laffey's views of Israel are also based on the Bible. He referred to Laffey's positions on Israel, and Laffey's belief, expressed to a columnist in 2002, that God wanted him to run for mayor. "I guess you put two and two together and assume that's what drives a lot of his foreign policy thinking," said Chafee.
Chafee said Biblical influence on Israel policy is a problem for the country "because the whole premise of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is the West Bank and trading land for peace." The Biblically inspired Republicans "would never trade land for peace, so we're going to have eternal conflict if that position prevails," Chafee said.
"I don't have any idea what he's talking about," Laffey said, referring to this line of Scriptural justification on Israeli policy. "I've never heard anybody say anything like that." Chafee "obviously knows a lot more about the Bible than I do," he said, "but that has nothing to do with my position on Israel."
"I thought John Kennedy kind of answered all that stuff back in 1960," Laffey said, referring to the criticism of presidential candidate Kennedy's Catholicism. Laffey said Chafee's assumptions about his religion are inaccurate and "kind of weird."
Laffey said he has no objection to a deal that would swap land -- including occupied lands on the West Bank -- for peace, provided that the Palestinian leadership recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces violence.
Laffey said the peace process has failed over the course of many years because American leaders took the mistaken view that Arafat "was the man to deal with" and "if we could get these people to the table, we could do something reasonable."
In fact, "Arafat wouldn't take a deal" when a favorable settlement was on the table during the waning days of Bill Clinton's presidency, he said. Laffey rejected the Chafee view that the flaw in the U.S. position has been a failure to push Israel toward peace. Rather, the problem is the policy of treating "both sides as being equal when one was terrorists who kind of invented the suicide bomber," according to Laffey.
Like Chafee, Laffey asserted that a starting point for peacemaking must be Palestinian renunciation of the goal of destroying Israel.
But Laffey rebuffed repeated efforts to seek specific details of how he views the peace process.
When he was asked to assess the charge from critics that President Bush has not involved himself enough in peace seeking, he replied that some critics say he raised Cranston's taxes too much. "Who are these people?" he asked.
When asked for a general view of Mr. Bush's approach to the peace process, he gave an account of Israel's modern history. Then he offered more criticism of Chafee.
But Laffey did volunteer some details of his view of the Middle East.
Since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza strip has not altered the Palestinian leadership's policy toward Israel, he said, "I don't know why they'd give up any more land without something happening on the other side."
He also criticized Chafee for his position on Israel's security barrier, saying, "Israel has every right to put up a fence to keep people from coming across and blowing up their people with bombs."
Laffey would not discuss the security barrier issue in deeper detail, however. He would not comment, for example, on the idea that the route of the barrier through Palestinian areas could threaten the viability of an eventual Palestinian state.
They sound just like the entire Middle East (Israel/Palestinian) codnundrum...flip sides of the same coin, a conflict that will PROBABLY be solved when H - E - double hockey sticks freezes over.
There are no winners over there, ever, only losers and bigger losers. What a way to live. I can't blame any of them for chosing HERE to live.
As was the equally despicable Jimmy Carter and look at the messes we have today thanks to peanut.
I think I know the answer to this, but is there any remote chance Laffey could get enough GOP activist votes to knock off Chafee in the primary? Or better yet, run as an independent in a three-way race with two leftists?
One would hope Laffey could win. If you look up "RINO" in the dictionary you will see Lincoln Chafee's smiling face.
I should point out that Chafee is way to the left of most Democrats on this one. It would be nice if there was a sane Democrat in the mold of Zell Miller or Joseph Lieberman to run to Mr. Chafee's right as a Democrat. I don't know enough about Rhode Island politics (other than the state almost always votes Democrat) to know if such a person exists.
Have you ever been to Israel? I'd suggest a visit before you judge us. Having lived in both countries (the U.S. and Israel) I'd have to say the similarities in culture and values are greater than the difference.
That, of course, is the point. Israel and the United States are both nations built on Judeo-Christian values. The Arab countries are anything but.
Very possible that Chafee could get bumped in the primary. In fact more likely that it happens in the primary than in the November election. Having worked on his last Mayoral campaign I can tell you that ALL of Laffey's supporters will show up at the polls on election day. Chafee's only hope is that unaffiliated voters choose to vote in the Republican primary and that the vast majority of them go his way. If Laffey drags Linc into a few debates it will get REAL ugly. I don't think Chafee has enough upstairs to go one on one with the Mayor.
Thanks for your insights. Sounds like it could be fun.
Now that is an understatement.
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