CNI’s Counter-Lantos Hearing on Annapolis

CNI Staff Report
December 20, 2007
On December 14, the Council for the National Interest held a special hearing on Capitol Hill to counter the biased hearing that the House International Relations Committee’s chairman Tom Lantos (R-CA) held two weeks earlier to assess the Annapolis "peace conference." While some skepticism was expressed about the potential outcome of the conference, the forum’s speakers endorsed the more active participation of the U.S. in the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
Whereas the pro-Israel witnesses in the Lantos hearing advocated closer Israeli-Palestinian security ties (i.e. formalized Israeli controls), normalization of diplomatic ties with Israel, and no further Israeli "concessions" to Palestinian "extremists," speakers at the CNI forum spoke of the need for the U.S. to reach out to all parties touching on the conflict, including Islamist factions in Lebanon, Palestine and Iran, as well as in Syria. According to the CNI delegation members, it was essential for the United States to become once more involved in the peace process, without which no progress could be achieved.
The featured speakers were all members of a CNI Foundation delegation, led by Ambassador Robert V. Keeley, that had just returned from an 16-day sojourn to five countries of the Middle East , talking to high-ranking officials that included presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, Knesset deputies, UN officers and leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah.  The moderator was Ambassador Edward Peck, former chief of mission in Iraq , and Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan White House.
Individual speakers spoke on what they viewed as key conclusions drawn from visiting Israel and four of its neighbors.  For CNI lobbyist Richard Bliss, the situation on the ground for the Palestinians was a shock: it was his first visit to Israel and Palestine .  "Several million Palestinians are living in a police state on their own land, courtesy of Israel .  It takes on more characteristics of a concentration camp every day," he said.  "If this were occurring any other place on the planet, the perpetrators would be subject of U.S. sanctions, or worse.  And we are paying for this."
Another delegation member, Dan Lieberman, also returned pessimistic about the Annapolis peace initiative, convinced that the "facts on the ground" were not conducive to peace, while the Israeli public seems to have little interest in seeing justice done to the Palestinians.  But he concluded, "The only means to secure peace with justice in this conflict is by international attention, led by the United States that recognizes the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the threat posed to the entire world community by this endless conflict."
In Lebanon , the electoral deadlock over the presidency of the country "imperils the country’s stability," according to author-journalist Milton Viorst. The president is selected by the Lebanese parliament on a consensus basis, and by recent tradition is always a Christian. But Lebanon has long suffered interference by its neighbors, Israel and Syria , and by its long-term "protectors," France and the U.S. The U.S. has now indicated that it opposes any candidate that is endorsed by Hezbollah, and implies that American economic and political assistance would be withdrawn from a consensus candidate not favorably disposed to U.S. interests. Syria and Iran are believed to strongly favor the Shi’ites.  "A Lebanese explosion scares the Arab world, which is already in turmoil," Viorst says, "and it should also scare Washington" since instability there would aggravate the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict in Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, "especially in the Annapolis meeting flops." 
In Jordan , where Palestinian refugees already make up 50% of the total population, the solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the "core problem," said delegation member Grace Austin. She found that the Jordanians feared that the continuation of the conflict would prompt more Palestinians to seek refuge in Jordan , which has few water and natural resources. She quoted a plea from Ms. Eman Nimri, Deputy Director of the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, "Please get twenty or thirty senators together to make the United States an impartial broker.  If this is not possible, then send Oprah to Palestine !"  Ms. Austin commented, "What a sad day when people looking for justice no longer are able to look to the Congress – the beacon of justice, the hope of the free world – and feel that Oprah Winfrey could do more, and be more fair, than the Congress."
CNI staff member Marlina Garrett reported on the group’s meetings in Syria , and concluded that there was a real desire on the part of the Syrians to have a dialogue over the issues with the U.S.  She told the Capitol Hill attendees, "If there is no discussion with parties like Hamas and the Syrian government, how does the Bush administration ever expect to push for a final and lasting peace, not only in Israel and Palestine but in the entire region?"
In attendance were several Hill staffers, CNI members and the press.  CNI will continue to pressure Congress to be more balanced in selecting witnesses called to testify in front of congressional committees, but we need your help.  Please help us keep up the pressure on Rep. Lantos and other representatives who are not serving American interests.
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