Congresswoman against peace

The US president and executive branch have the most significant role in making foreign policy and are responsible for carrying it out.

Congress has the right to approve, recommend or reject foreign aid bills submitted to it, but it rarely blatantly opposes the executive branch’s foreign policy decisions.

Regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, American policy appears to have been uniform. In the past two decades, the US has been clearly in favour of the two-state solution as the bedrock of America’s foreign policy. Such a policy is translated in political and diplomatic terms, as well as in the details of its foreign aid.

USAID West Bank and Gaza programme has worked hard to translate this US policy. Americans worked hand in hand with the moderate, forward-looking Salam Fayyad government as it developed plans to build the infrastructure of the Palestinian state as a democratic, peaceful country. Consecutive US presidents from both parties are on the record as supporting the creation of "an independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state".

The two-state solution and the specifics of the state of Palestine enjoy international consensus, reflected in the position of the Quartet, which includes the US, UN, EU and Russia. Israelis also support the two-state solution and Israel’s current hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly supported the two-state solution.

American elected officials from both parties also support it, and so does the majority of Americans, including Jewish Americans.

Israel and the US believe that the creation of a "contiguous and viable" Palestinian state should be the result of negotiations, but they agree on the need to work on building the infrastructure of this agreed to state.

This overwhelming support for a contiguous and viable Palestinian state was dealt a blow by a single congresswoman who defied the will of the American people, the US Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American who represents Florida’s 18th district, unilaterally decided what constitutes foreign policy in regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives, conditioned the lifting of the hold with the understanding that the money not be used for assistance in Gaza. She also prohibited the use of USAID funds for road projects in the West Bank, except if directly related to security.

Finally, and bizarrely, she denied use of funds for trade facilitation, tourism promotion, scholarships for Palestinian students and other aid for Palestinian Authority agencies and ministries.

It is hard to understand why a US congressperson would put such conditions over and above the recommendations of USAID officials. The USAID money for the reconstruction of Gaza was pledged by Clinton and does not go to the Hamas-led government, but to the people of Gaza who suffered tremendous hardships during the Israeli war of 2008-09.

Road construction and trade facilitating projects in the West Bank fit perfectly with the two-state solution, which the entire world, including Israel’s prime minister, supports. By opposing such projects, the Republican congresswoman goes against US and international policies.

But perhaps the most perplexing decision by the Florida congresswoman is her opposition to promoting Christian tourism to the Holy Land. According to a request for proposals (RFP294- 2011-204) published by USAID last year, the American government was looking for contractors able to help rebuild a number of Christian sites in the occupied West Bank. This includes rebuilding the Burqeen Church in Jenin, working on Jacob’s well in Nablus, developing the Shepherd’s Field in Beit Sahour and working on Christian sites in Sabastia and Balata, in the north of the West Bank.

This decision harms Christian Palestinians as well as Christians around the world who might want to visit the sites for which she is denying reconstruction funds.

Why is a US congressperson so opposed to actions that support peace, the two-state solution and the strengthening of the Christian community in Palestine?

The only logical explanation is that she is not acting in the best interest of her constituency, or even the American people, but is reflecting the narrow, radical point of view of a hardline, rightwing, pro-Israel lobby.

A hint of that might be found in reviewing the politician’s donor base. Campaign finance records show that her top campaign contributor is Irving Moskowitz, the retired Florida businessman who is developing a controversial apartment project –” intended exclusively and discriminatorily for Jews –” in occupied East Jerusalem’s Shepherd Hotel.

The American foreign policy has suffered from hypocrisy and lack of execution. The unilateral decision by a lobby-influenced single member of the US Congress shouldn’t be allowed to weaken an already weak US policy towards peace and justice in the Middle East.