Friday, April 13, 2007

Finding the Courage to Negotiate: Pelosi, AIPAC and Foreign Policy

The Berkeley Daily Planet


By Becky O’Malley

So let us begin anew, remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.
—President John F. Kennedy

These words are from Kennedy’s first inaugural address. That speech marked a generation, my generation. Nancy Pelosi, a politically aware woman of my own age, like me a college student in 1961, cannot have escaped hearing that speech and being influenced by it all of her adult life, as we all were. The attitude it embodied ultimately resulted in the end of a repressive regime in the former Soviet Union, without the atomic war that many in 1961 thought was inevitable. Kennedy described the belief system he hoped to counter: “[B]oth sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.” Kennedy and his successors made many mistakes along the way, but his assertion that negotiation was the only way to end the balance of terror and avoid the atomic Armageddon which threatened to destroy the planet paid off in the end.

Pelosi, now a grandmother like me, is continuing to follow Kennedy’s advice by visiting leaders of potentially warring nations in the Mideast and urging negotiations. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, is going along. Her credentials as a supporter of Israel, like his, are rock-solid, but no matter, the twerps are nipping at their heels.

Dick Cheney, briefly emerging from his undisclosed hidey-hole, led the attack, which has now trickled down to lesser-con luminaries like columnist Debra Saunders. The most foolish version of all this was Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s suggestion that Pelosi shouldn’t have worn a headscarf when she visited a mosque. “I just don’t know what got into her head, to be completely honest with you,” he said. “Her going to a state which is, without question, a sponsor of terror, and having her picture taken with Assad and being seen in a head scarf and so forth is sending the wrong signal to the people of Syria and to the people of the Middle East.”

Perhaps Romney, who is a Mormon, doesn’t knew that when Nancy and I were growing up Catholic women were always required to cover their heads in church, and that even Protestant princesses (there were no women Speakers in those days) donned veils when calling on the Pope. As a mayor’s daughter she’s undoubtedly grown up seeing politicians of all faiths bobby-pin yarmulkes to their heads when courting Jewish voters. Wearing a scarf is no big deal.

Lantos has even suggested that a trip to Iran should be the next item on the agenda, a proposal which Pelosi’s political staff quickly rejected, but don’t bet against it nevertheless. The time for talking to all parties is now, as sensible Israelis and Americans, even some Republicans, are starting to admit. Pelosi carried what she thought was a peace message to Syria from Israel, only to have clueless Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert deny that he’d intended any such thing, probably under pressure from the Bush White House.

But the time has come to talk. George Soros, international financier, philanthropist and determined advocate of what he believes to be human rights imperatives, came out of the political closet with a piece in the April 12 New York Review of Books.

He said that “The Bush administration is once again in the process of committing a major policy blunder in the Middle East, one that is liable to have disastrous consequences and is not receiving the attention it should. This time it concerns the Israeli–Palestinian relationship. The Bush administration is actively supporting the Israeli government in its refusal to recognize a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization. This precludes any progress toward a peace settlement at a time when progress on the Palestinian problem could help avert a conflagration in the greater Middle East.” His statement was dated March 15, before Pelosi’s trip, but its endorsement of the necessity of negotiation certainly applies to talking to Syria as well.

With a great deal of trepidation, remarkable in someone with as much influence and even power as Soros has, he zeroed in on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as one of the principal obstacles to peace:

“I am not sufficiently engaged in Jewish affairs to be involved in the reform of AIPAC; but I must speak out in favor of the critical process that is at the heart of our open society. I believe that a much-needed self-examination of American policy in the Middle East has started in this country; but it can’t make much headway as long as AIPAC retains powerful influence in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Some leaders of the Democratic Party have promised to bring about a change of direction but they cannot deliver on that promise until they are able to resist the dictates of AIPAC.” Even though Soros is himself Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel, he knows that he is exposing himself to personal attacks for taking this position.

Pelosi, like many Democratic politicians in the Bay Area including Lantos, Assemblymember Hancock and Mayor Bates among others, has in the past been a vocal and visible supporter of AIPAC. That puts her in a good position to jump boldly into the negotiating process, just as Nixon’s history of anti-Communism put him in a good position to open negotiations with China. Even so, it has taken a considerable amount of courage for her to do so, and for Lantos and Congressman Henry Waxman to get her back as she does. It’s not too much to ask that other Democratic political leaders, especially those in safer-than-safe Northern California seats, should now demonstrate similar courage in resisting AIPAC’s undue influence on American and Israeli policy and speaking out in favor of open negotiations with all parties in the Middle East.

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