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American Foreign Policy & the Palestinian National Authority

PSR Workshop

Lecture by Edward Abington, former American Consul General in Jerusalem

Abington:

I was here last in the mid of February a few months ago. Many of you were here and I said at that time that Bush had many problems. In February, I said that he was likely to be re-elected because he has the advantage of being incumbent president. Since then, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated even further and Iraq has become a tremendous burden on Bush. In general, when you watch Television in the States, you will not see good news there. There is always bad news that is having a real impact on the American public. They see more and more American soldiers being killed, and they see behavior of American soldiers that many Americans find really appalling. The photographs and the accounts that come out of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners of Abu Greib, which probably is repeated at Gwantanomo and jails in Afghanistan is just evidence. The American people don’t like this. It doesn’t fit their image of Americans and how they’re supposed to treat other people, and it has hurt Bush that way. My own feeling is that the whole story hasn’t come out yet. There will be more revelations and are going to develop further up the chain of command, certainly in the military. So, this is a festering sore for Bush.

Our policy in Iraq has now become dependent on a former Algerian diplomat and we have turned over to him the responsibility of forming a transitional government in Iraq hoping against hope that he can pull off Americans. But I remain deeply skeptical in the five months before elections on Nov. 2 that the situation in Iraq will be seen to materially improve. So long as situation continues to deteriorate, I think it will continue to hurt Bush.

Iraq is not the only issue that a lot of Americans are concerned about. The size of the budget deficit is over 500 billion Dollars. We’ve never had a deficit this big. The Congressional Budget Office and other people estimate that our budget deficit in the next three-four years is going to be that big if not bigger. Spending is basically out of control in the US. I mean there is no discipline between the Administration and the Congress on spending. If you just take the issue of the oil of Iraq, the cause of Bush’s decision to go to war on unilateral basis, the US is paying the vast majority of the expenses, which is already 275 billion Dollars and getting bigger. The US military is stretched to the breaking point in Iraq. We have 36 combat brigades in the Army and Marines; 33 have either been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, South Korea, or will have to be sent back to US for a year before they can be taken back overseas. This is, of course, having a devastating impact on family moral. If you’re a wife with three or four little kids and your husband is overseas for a year, and he comes back for a year or less, or he doesn’t even come back because his tour of duty has been extended by three or four months in Iraq, it is creating family pressure, and a lot of people and experts are fearful that this is going to very negatively affect the rate of re-enlistment, and soldiers whose enlistment is up the Army is not letting them leave because of Iraq. So, someone, for example having his enlistment ended up in January of this year but he is still in the Army, the Army won’t let him go. This is putting strains on our military.

The rise in oil prices in gasoline in the US is becoming increasingly an issue that will increase inflation in the US. It is worth mentioning here that oil prices have been very, very low for a number of years. Besides, an unexpected increase will affect the economic recovery that is starting to taking place. However, it seems that the supply of oil is so tight that there is unlikely to be any substantial lessening of gasoline prices for the foreseeable future, certainly not for the next 3 or 4 months during which time it is going to remain very high. In fact, the highest that it has been ever in the US. Also, I think Bush has been aware of this fact.

Other Americans are concerned about what they see as an erosion of constitutional protections under the Bush administration. After 09/11, in order to deal with terrorism, the congress passed something called the Patriot Act. This act gave a lot more authority to the FBI and other agencies in terms of jailing Americans. Believe it or not, a lot of Americans take the constitution very seriously. Americans feel very strongly that you cannot arrest someone; you can’t hold him indefinitely. Ironically, it seems that we’re becoming more and more like the Israelis. Some people have drawn that analogy. So this is another reason why people are discontent and are upset.

All of these are coming together to lessen popular support for George Bush. His job approval rating the last Fall I saw was 42%. Only 42% of the Americans said that they approved, over 50% said they disapproved. It’s the lowest rate Bush ever had since he’s been president. Not only that, but in the last 6 elections no sitting president who had an approval rating below 50% was reelected including his father. So, he’s in trouble, there is no doubt about it. On the other hand, John Kerry is not particularly charismatic campaigner. He has not really captured the imagination of the American voters. But increasingly the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the election is John Kerry’s to lose. If he doesn’t really make any big mistakes, he’ll probably win the elections.

There is another factor to play that works against George Bush. We hear more and more from traditional Republicans. This is really anecdotal evidence but it is Republicans who have decided that they’re very upset by Bush’s presidency, and that they are going to vote against him, is not a vote for Kerry, but a vote against Bush. Now, there’re things that could happen that could change this dynamic. You saw on CNN a couple of days ago FBI and the Attorney General were putting out information about the possibility of serious terrorist attack in the US over the next several months. If that would happen, God forbid, that would probably benefit Bush because in the time of crises people tend to rally around the President. So, that would help him. In Iraq, if the violence started to diminish in a serious way and life starts to go in the right direction, even there is some continued fighting, that would probably help Bush. If oil prices would come down, that could also help him. Because economic recovery is going on, jobs are being created, and of the mass of tax cuts that President Bush and Congress in acted a couple of years ago. So, by no means, it is something certain that Bush will win and Kerry is going to lose. But at this point, there is no doubt that Bush is in a lot of trouble.

The Kerry people have raised a lot of money for campaign contributions. In the past two months they’ve raised 100 Million Dollars of contribution. Bush only raised, in those two months, about 30 Millions. Bush is spending a lot of his 170 Million Dollars, at least 50-60 million so far in negative campaign ads against Kerry. It seems that this hadn’t that much effect, but it is going to be an interesting campaign. Probably it is going to get a lot nastier than what it is now. The Christian fundamentalist block is the core constituency for Bush. They probably will stay with Bush because they don’t have any other place to go. However, the Democrats are more united than they’ve been for years and wanting to get Bush out of office. Polling suggests that independent voters, not affiliated to the republicans or to the Democrats, are starting to move in the direction of Kerry. So we have to see, but I hope to see a different administration in Washington on Jan. 20 of next year.

So, what can you expect from the current administration on this issue, the Palestinian issue, for the remaining of this year? Frankly, not much! Bush is in the fight of life in terms of elections. The American focus is very, very much on Iraq and is trying to stitch together some kind of a plan that would work politically. Clearly, we don’t have enough troops on the ground to control the situation. Iraq remains very fragile, politically. And clearly insurgence is able to inflict damage not only on American troops but even more so on the Iraqi population and those Iraqis who’ve been cooperating with the US. So, it seems to me that Iraq is going to be a very serious preoccupation for the Administration getting into the elections.

Bush so warmly embraced Sharon’s Gaza disengagement because Bush’s administration doesn’t have a policy- a realistic policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And for lack of policy, they have just, on board, Sharon’s proposal considering the assurances of Bush given on April 14th. If you go back for the last three and a half years, during which the Bush administration has been in office, I believe that you can only come to one inescapable conclusion: Bush is not serious about dealing with this issue. Bush has tied himself to Sharon, and as many of the neo-conservatives. The Bush administration has argued: Sharon must be given the freedom to solve out the problem with the Palestinians however he wants. People such as Douglas Wide, secretary Rumsfield, and Aily Davrence have argued that the president should not invest his time, energy, and prestige trying to resolve this problem. That is too difficult. The parties are not ready to compromise. Let the Israelis deal with it. These people reject any linkage between the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other US policies in the Arab world. They reject the idea that the continued killing of Palestinians and the continued deterioration of the situation really affect American interest in the Arab world. People like Condilescea Rice say that Arab governments hide behind the Palestinian issue to avoid dealing with reform in their countries. I think that Bush is basically a Christian fundamentalist. His approach to the world is much the same that you see with many of the Christian fundamentalists in the US. He is a person who believes that God has given him a mission. He gives taxpayer’s money to religious groups to carry out social programs. The Department of Health and Human Services has given something like 140 Million Dollars for these faith-based initiatives. They’ve given no money to Moslem groups, no money to Jewish groups, a small amount of money to interfaith groups, and the vast majority of the 140 million dollars has gone to Christian groups, which I find absolutely appalling. Its not, I believe, in the American tradition and certainly not in terms of separation between church and state. So, the point I am making is that not to expect a better attitude from Bush either now or if he’s reelected. I’ve come to the conclusion that the conventional wisdom is that a second term president who doesn’t have to run again is willing to take all decisions, when it come to this issue, I just don’t believe that this is the way Bush would approach it.

So, you’re asking what would Kerry look like, and what would his administration look like? As I’ve been here in Ramallah, some people have commented to me: “Kerry is better than Bush.” We’ll hear these public statements like he is not going to be more balanced on this issue, as is Bush now. I don’t agree with that. We have campaign rhetoric in the US just like other countries do. Kerry is running a very careful campaign. He’s being very careful not to alienate constituencies that traditionally support the Democratic Party. Certainly, the American Jewish community both in votes and in term of campaign finances has traditionally been pro-Democratic although Bush and Kerry have been trying to make in roads into the Jewish community. So, you cannot expect that Kerry is going to stake out the different position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue at a time of election. He’s not going to do it. Not only he doesn’t want to alienate elements of his constituency, but also he doesn’t want to give Bush a handle on which to attack him. Let us assume he repeats statements that he’s made in the past, very critical of the Wall, very critical of Israeli Settlements. Bush and his campaign would find a way to try to turn that against Kerry, that he’s undermining Israel security. This kind of argument would be made.

We have talked to people who are working for Kerry, people who are advising him. And I just want to make a couple of notes why Kerry’s approach would be different. First, John Kerry is much more sophisticated in his understanding of foreign policy issues than George Bush. Kerry has been on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for almost two decades. He has traveled extensively. He has met with people all over the world including here, including coming to Palestine as well as to Israel. He understands this issue, I think, very well. His approach to foreign policy, in contrast to George Bush, I think, would be based on building coalition. You can’t tackle these problems alone and expect to succeed. They are either too complex or too difficult. So, I think he would employ the Quartet, for example in a much more effective fashion that Bush has been. He is on record publicly saying that he would appoint a high level envoy, with his confidence speaking in his name that would work on this issue and try to break the deadlock that we are in today.

Again, if we look back at the last three and a half years of President Bush’s efforts with the envoys who have come and gone to the area none of them had a clear backing of the president and the mandate to do what is necessary to break the deadlock. Again to my way of thinking Bush is not really serious about dealing with this problem. I think Kerry would put a lot more emphasis on it. Kerry believes that letting the issue fester harms the American interest in the Middle East. It is bad for the Palestinians and to the Israelis. And again, according to the people I talked to Kerry would give this issue a much higher priority than Bush has.

Well, one of the points that I wanted to make, according to what we’ve been told, Kerry believes that the negotiating process between Israelis and Palestinians should be based on progress that’s been made in the past including Camp David, Taba, etc… In other words, you don’t feel the past is over again. You try to build on that to try to break the deadlock. But, he still would expect that there have to be Palestinian responsibility. Palestinians need to adopt policies and take decisions that show that they are a responsible partner. I don’t think that Kerry would change policy regarding Arafat. There is a broad support for that policy in Washington, in the Congress, and the State Department, which has traditionally been supportive of Arafat. There’s been a change of opinion in the State Department, there is the believe that Arafat is not responsible in terms of decision making, but he is blocking any progress so long as he’s not playing a central role and that even if he does play, even if he does get back again, there is no real expectation in Washington that he would do the right one. Palestinian credibility in Washington is at all-time low. It is at all time low in terms of the PNA, its ability to formulate policies, and its ability to carryout actions on the ground to re-establish its credibility. Besides, there is not much expectation that this is going to change at the foreseeable future.

That’s how I see Kerry. And I would just urge you to keep that in mind when you hear campaign statements by him. In this regard to this issue, I am convinced that Kerry would approach this in a much more activist and responsible role that you would see some very serious American diplomatic efforts to do with this issue.

As I said earlier, the Bush Administration, for the lack of resolve and policy, has rushed to embrace the Gaza disengagement. I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it, but I think there is a consensus. I think there is a growing international consensus that if Sharon can get it through his government, then the Gaza disengagement proposal may be a way to break the deadlock between the Israelis and Palestinians.

I’ve been in a series of meetings for the past couple of weeks, which involved American officials, Israeli officials, Palestinians, European participants, UN participants, Egyptians, Jordanians, and I think that as I listened to those meetings and as I’ve talked to people, its clear that the international community sees this Gaza disengagement as, may be, a way to break the deadlock. These people know what Sharon’s disengagement plan is. Sharon’s game is to try to get out of Gaza. Try to hand it to the international community, concentrate on the West Bank, retaining large settlement blocs in the West Bank, and tie the international community to Gaza so that there is no real progress towards a real peace. I believe that every one understands that, including professionals in the US government.

There is a consensus, I believe, that Israeli withdrawal from Gaza should be complete, not only the settlements, but also all the territories of Gaza including the Philadilphi corridor. If Israel remains militarily in Gaza, there will continue to be clashes and instability. Israel says that it will control the land borders, the airspace, and the sea space. There is a consensus that so long as Israel does that, even if it is out of Gaza, there needs to be a connection between Gaza disengagement and the Road Map.

What is needed is to take the assurances that Bush gave and to give a real balance along the lines of Clinton Parameters. Whether this is to be done or not, this is to be seen, but I think there is consensus that this was a good idea. There is also a lot of skepticism that much could be expected out of the Bush administration for the remainder of this year. The Bush administration is so preoccupied trying to win Bush’s re-election; you can not expect a very active US role for the remainder of the year. The bureaucracy has been given its instructions trying to make Gaza work. I was a bureaucrat for many years myself; I know how bureaucracies work. If Sharon, somehow, can muddle his way through, the Bush bureaucrats in the State Department, AID, and other places will be working with their counterparts in the EU, the UN, and other organizations with the Israelis to try to come with a plan that can make Gaza work and can make Gaza lead to a break through in the peace process and in the deadlock that we’re in today.

Dr. Khalil Shikaki:

If you were to put on the hat of the advisor for the Palestinians, what would you say to them? Here is the picture you draw: nothing is going to change even if the administration changes, so Arafat will remain in prison. The Americans are not enthusiastic; in fact some circles in Washington are very much opposed to the idea of Palestinian elections. So, domestically it seems that we will remain paralyzed at least for the time being. Yet the challenges in front of us are becoming more serious, particularly if the Israelis do pullout from Gaza the way they are talking about it. Because of our own paralysis in dealing with it, Gaza could turn into a suffocating ghetto for the Palestinians.

If the Egyptians do show interest in sending security personnel to Gaza, again assuming that we are still in the same state of paralysis, the Egyptians might, in fact, be shot at and the relationship with Egypt could worsen considerably. The Israelis might take advantage of the situation and assassinate Arafat or do something to Arafat and this could worsen our situation further. Killing Arafat could weaken the nationalists; we could see further fragmentation there and that could open the door for a much larger Islamists takeover in Gaza.

Given the challenges confronting us and the reality of our own paralysis, which does not seem to be going away any time soon, what would you advise the Palestinian leadership? What would you tell Arafat and Abu Ala’ to do?

Abington:

I do not think that the Israelis will assassinate Arafat. I think that it serves Sharon’s interest to keep him in prison. So, I don’t think that they will assassin him. The other thing is that Bush has made it a red line to Sharon: “Don’t harm Arafat.” Not because Bush has affection to Arafat, he doesn’t, but he doesn’t want the spillover that an assassination will create. If the Israelis would do this and Americans are killed in the Arab World, embassies are being blown up; I think that the Americans would be outraged. I also think that the Israelis are too smart and know how critical the relationship with the US is to Israel that I just see them not taking the step. However, the other things that you have in minds are certainly factors.

I will tell you what I have told Arafat and Abu Ala’ and everyone else. Prepare for Gaza redeployment. Try to come up with a plan to make it work on both the economic-governance and security sides. In fact, as I’ve gone around and talked to people, I think some serious planning is being made, at least on the economic side.

Whether the Egyptians can persuade Arafat to make the decisions on the security side, I don’t know, but you have to be skeptical, given Arafat’s track record, that he’ll make those decisions.

I have advised people that they should prepare for elections. They should set a date. They should play off the American support for elections in Iraq in January 2005; point out the American hypocrisy of position, try to gain the support of other members of the Quartet in the international community, and try to put the US in the corner on the subject of elections. How the US can say that it supports the elections in Iraq under chaotic situation there but it doesn’t support elections in Palestine. A way to do this is to have an AHLC meeting, which is the donors meeting, and it wouldn’t be for elections but to consider the World Bank’s economic report on Gaza, which is being conducted now. The Palestinians could ask that the elections committee of the AHLC should activate the reform effort from last year with personnel from the donor countries with money to help the Palestinians prepare for elections and put the donors on the spot to start preparation for elections. Put the onus on the US and Israel and try to create a condition so that the elections can take place.

I told Arafat that this is the stated position of the Bush administration and it is my assessment where Kerry would come out regarding your role, but you don’t have to accept that. If you make the decisions on governance, on security, and so forth, you will change the dynamic. People, I believe, would start coming to you. You’re having it in your hands if you’re willing to do it to create a different situation.

Dr. Shikaki:

Do you think he is capable of doing that?

Abington:

I don’t think I should answer that question. You ask me what I would advise, and I told you what I have been advising people.

I think we’re in a different situation, slightly different than the one we were in three months or six months ago. I think that the US is in a weaker position because of Iraq. Because the majority of the world has rejected the assurances that Bush gave to Sharon. That is one reason why Bush wrote a letter to King Abdullah, and wrote another letter to Abu Ala’. So, the US is in a weaker position and if the Palestinians leadership is capable of getting its act together, they could take advantage of that weakness to promote Palestinian interest and to try to breakout of the deadlock that we’re all in. There is an opportunity there, I believe.

Dr. Riyad Al-Malki:

Two points. We’ve been hearing over the years that Israel will be willing to accommodate a third party role only after peace is signed in Palestine. Now, how Israel perceives the role of a third party when it comes to unilateral withdrawal instead of an agreed upon withdrawal? What will happen in Gaza when Israel withdraws? According to the disengagement plan Sharon says that Israel will cease its legal responsibility in a way, meaning that it will end Gaza occupation.

Abington:

Just because Israel says it ends the occupation, it doesn’t mean that the International community accepts that it ended the occupation.

Dr. Al-Malki:

My argument is different. With all the influence that Israel has on the Palestinian authority, will the PNA be able to ask for a third party intervention? This is my first question. A second question: when you discussed the possibilities of the elections in the US, I would like you to illustrate the Nadir’s Factor. How this will work and to what degree will it jeopardize the possibilities to defeat Bush?

Abington:

On the first point, Israel is saying publicly that it is open to arrangements on the presence of third party on its International borders. It has not shown willingness to accept an international force inside Gaza, and I don’t think it would be possible to deploy one without Israel’s agreement. Israel could block it, and the International community, the countries that would contribute to such a force, are not going to go against Israel’s view on this issue. But Israel seems to be saying very clearly that it is open to some kind of a third party role on the periphery, and it is open to a significant Egyptian role inside Gaza, even if it is not saying that in the disengagement proposal. It is saying that to the US and the Egyptian and to other countries. The Egyptians have told me that the Israelis have proposed a revision to the Egyptian-Israeli treaty, which would allow for an Egyptian military presence along the Gaza-Sinai border. And Sharon has formally conveyed this to Mubarak. So, I think that there is openness on the part of the Israelis to consider this. The Israelis want as much to relieve the burden on themselves, they want an international presence, not an international force, such as the World Bank; it wants contributing donor countries to play a significant role inside Gaza to help the Palestinians build their capacity. So, it has to be tested. It does have to be tested. And we all know the experience dealing with the Israelis over the last decade and even before that. But it has to be tested whether this is a serious Israeli position. But I think that the US and the Egyptians believe that it is a serious position.

I should have mentioned the Nadir factor. It is complicated because Ralph Nadir will not get on the ballot of all American states. He will be blocked in a number of states. A number of states are doing every thing to block him from being on the ballot. He is under a lot of pressure and a lot of criticism from the Democratic Party. I think it will be very interesting to see how the Arab-American community votes this time because they gave a significant number of votes in the last elections. But they also went very much in favor of Bush because they miscalculated that George W. Bush would be just like his father. Obviously, those were very serious miscalculations. There is a rumor that some people in the Muqata’ made the same miscalculations. I think that the Arab American community is deeply disillusioned with Bush and certainly they are not going to vote for him this time. But it will be critical whether they vote for Kerry or throw their votes to Nadir. The Arab-American community can make a difference in certain swing states. Michigan is one example. As you know, there is a significant presence in Michigan of Arab-Americans. There is a number of Arab-Americans in Florida, which was very close last year. I hope that they can be persuaded to vote for Kerry and certainly Democratic organizers out there are trying to get their vote and to persuade people not to throw their votes away.

There is another factor, which has an impact on the elections. It is going to be very important whom John Kerry picks to be his running vice president. I saw a poll Friday that showed 49% support for Kerry and 41% for George Bush and I don’t remember whether Nadir was in the mixture or not. But it showed a 16-point spread between Kerry and Bush if Kerry picked John McCain, the Republican senator, as his running mate. Nadir, in general, shows a very small margin of support, I think less than that he showed in the last elections. We have to wait and see whether he can build that support or not. Ironically, I think that we will have the Republicans supporting Ralph Nadir and the Democrats doing every thing they can to undermine him.

Dr. Shikaki:

Whether the Arab-Americans are Republicans or Democrat does not depend solely on the question of Palestine and Israel. They are conservative and are also dominated by business interests and so they like the Republicans and may be they are likely to go there.

Dawoud Talhami:

Do you think that Nadir has made an agreement with Kerry before the elections to stay out but with Kerry giving him some assurances concerning some policies both on the internal and possibly external levels?

My second question is that in a speech Kerry made some days ago about foreign policy and American security, he gave importance to the problem of getting liberated from the influence of the Middle East oil, for the US to find alternatives for energy and the Middle East oil. Do you think that he is serious about that given that it is impossible to find alternatives from now up to 2020 as some studies show? That means that he doesn’t have much interest in oil companies as much as the Republicans have.

Do you think that it is possible for Bush to introduce election reform concerning campaign funding, because this might minimize the influence of the Jewish lobby in the US?

The last part of my questions concerns the dangerous question of Gaza since Sharon is believed to have an intention to keep Gaza out of the total Palestinian-Israeli issue. As he said to Omar Sulaiman that he will not attack Gaza unless there is firing from there. That means the West Bank will be left alone and Sharon will probably come up with an idea of getting Jordanians to the sovernity in the West Bank.

Abington:

As for the first question, I really don’t know. I would think probably not. I think Nadir is going to run regardless. As you know many Democrats blame him for Bush becoming President. And as you know Al Gur won the popular vote but lost the Electoral vote. There were states where Nadir won enough votes, including in Florida, that you can argue that he really did cost him the elections. I know that is an issue that worries Democrats a lot, and probably Republicans think that it could mean that Bush would be re-elected. Is it possible to strike an agreement? I think probably not.

On Middle East oil, there are things that the US can do to lessen its dependence. For the last decades Americans have bought these huge vehicles of SUVs (Support Utility Vehicles). Basically, what the manufacturers do is that they take the body of a truck and then make it like a big station wagon and they give 7-12 miles to the gallon. They are also the vehicles that car companies get the biggest profit from. So, they want to sell as many as they can. Believe me, the price of oil is really hurting the sale of these gas consuming machines. The Toyota Company has come up with a vehicle, which is both a gas and electric car. The way it works is that it starts off on gas and it reaches a certain speed and then it becomes electric. It gives 60 miles to the gallon. There is one-year waiting list to get one in the US. So, just doing things like this can help lessen the demand for oil.

The Bush administration has made zero effort to deal with the issue of fuel efficiency in cars. So that is one thing, which could be done. It requires leadership. The Bush administration has taken a number of decisions on environmental issues that are in favor of business. I think there will continue to be an oil shortage. Production is going to start to decline and that will have a huge impact on the world economy.

There are a couple of reasons for the high price of oil; one is the devaluation of the price of the dollar, and oil is priced in dollars so as the value of the dollar has gone down oil producing countries have been earning less. Hence, they want to increase the price of oil. The other thing is that demand for oil is constantly increasing. Particularly, as China’s economy is growing they are becoming a bigger consumer of oil; the result is that prices are going up. There are things the US can do to reduce its dependence and Bush is responsible for not doing so.

With regard to reforming the electoral system, it is always extremely difficult to pass laws on campaign finance. As you know, there was the McCain bill passed a year or two ago, which outlined campaign reforms. It has been partially successful in terms of funding. You can see how it is partially successful when you see the large amounts of money that Bush and John Kerry are raising. So the problem with reform in campaign financing is that you’re asking the people who have benefited most from the system to change it to where they benefit less. The people in the House or the Senate want to keep that money coming in. So, campaign reform, which means less money for them, makes their re-election more difficult. So to expect them to reform the system is really difficult.

As for Gaza, everybody knows what Sharon’s game is. I cannot see where Jordan would agree to this functional autonomy or functional authority. It was discussed with the Jordanians in the 70s when I was at the Embassy in Tel-Aviv; we were working on this issue. I see it as a non-starter. The Jordanians are scared to death of what Sharon is trying to do with the Separation Wall, with Gaza, and so forth. They, the right wing in Israel, all pray that the ultimate outcome of this is that the Hashemite regime could disappear and Jordan becomes Palestine. And, yes, it is Sharon’s plan. The question is whether he can succeed and do it. I don’t know if he can. It seems to me that the Palestinians, for him, are a poison pill, and he can’t forcibly expel them. The Israelis can create condition so miserable for the Palestinians that those who can would leave, but that doesn’t happen in Gaza. People have told me that there is some immigration from the West Bank, but a lot of people don’t have the option of leaving. I mean most of you sitting around this table do, but the poor guy with 10 kids who’s got a little shop or some thing like that doesn’t have such an option of leaving.

There is an increasing economic distress, and it is either a refugee situation like what you have in southern Sudan, or you have people who pick up a gun and start fighting there. I think that the Palestinians are poison pill for the Israelis that they can’t get rid of. Frankly, I think that most Israelis realize this fact. Not all, but a lot of the Israelis realize that and would very much like to get rid of the occupation.

Mr. Ahmad Subuh:

I have two questions. In your analysis you examined external and internal factors that affect the elections in the US. Could you please tell us how you see the power of Christian Fundamentalists and the different social groups like African Americans? The second question is how Israeli and the Zionist lobby are looking at the elections at this moment, and how do they play their roles? Does Bush use the letter of guarantees that he has given to Sharon in his campaign?

Abington:

I’ll address your last question first. Certainly Bush is tying to make in-roads into the Jewish support. Jews traditionally are the heaviest support contributors to the Democratic Party in terms of money for campaigns, and they are trying to get Jewish money as well. The Jewish population is so important in certain swing states, particularly Florida. I think Karl Rauv’s strategy is to try to erode Democratic support among Jews in states like Florida and get them to vote Republican, to Bush, because of his strong support to Israel. It is wrong to look at the support to Israel as a support to Zionism. Jews in America traditionally have been the most liberal and the most concerned about social issues. Beginning the 1960s, where the US was going through turmoil over civil rights, it was American Jews who formed the partnership with African-Americans that pushed toward civil rights, and they had a very, very influential role.

Jews have traditionally voted Democratic because Democrats represent a more liberal point of view. Bush, I think, won about 20% of the Jewish votes in the last elections. He may increase it marginally. But a lot of Jews who are traditionally liberal are very upset with Bush’s policies. They may like what he does with Sharon, but they are very upset with a lot of other things that he does. So, I think that they will continue to be very strong supporters of the Democratic Party.

It’s probably a mistake to stereotype the Christian Fundamentalists’ movement. Certainly, out there is the Bush constituency; but not all Christian Fundamentalists vote for him. Some Christians vote Democratic, some are concerned about other issues such as the environment and so forth. But still, as I described how the Jews are more Democratic, this group seems to vote more Republican. They tend to be, in general, in the South, in the Southern US. And there is a transformation of the voting patterns in the south. They used to be solidly Democratic, but they started changing over the issue of civil rights, in form of a reaction, and they gradually shifted to the Republican Party. The South has gradually become Republican conservative and not Democratic.

With regard to other groups such as African-Americans, the Republican Party has been very unsuccessful trying to change them or attract their support. There was one African-American Republican, he is a member of the House of Representatives and I think he left. So I think there is not a single African-American who is in the Republican Party in the House of Representatives. There are 30 or 40 African-Americans there but everyone is Democratic. Hispanics is a population that is increasing a lot in the US. I think that there are more Hispanics in the US than African-Americans. The Republican Party and Bush have made a real hard campaign to try to gain their support. I believe they still turn towards the Democrats, but the Republicans are making in-roads. They tend to be concentrated in boarder states, Texas, Mexico, Arizona, and California. California traditionally goes Democratic, Arizona votes for the Republicans. Increasingly in areas like Virginia, there is a very large Hispanic population of people from Central America, el Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, etc. and how they will vote and whether they will register to vote, remain to be seen.

Question:

Given the US deteriorating image in the Arab world and the Islamic world, how do you see Kerry after winning the elections? How can he renovate the deteriorating foreign policy and the US image, particularly regarding the Palestinian issue since it is the most sensitive issue in the Arab world?

Dr. Shikaki:

As the American situation in Iraq deteriorates, some Americans believe that America could be facing a strategic defeat in Iraq, that it will be seen as running under fire from Iraq as it did in Vietnam and other places. We are already beginning to see Americans, including members of the Congress and General Tony Zinny, who are saying that we went into war because of Israel. Some reached the conclusion that Israel is to be blamed for it. How is this affecting conditions for Bush and the US support for Sharon and Israel?

Abington:

Certainly the Kerry administration believes that Bush’s unilateral war against Iraq was a huge strategic blunder and that Kerry would not approach foreign policy in that way. As I said, he would give higher priority to try to start a negotiating process on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, a realization that letting this issue fester hurts the US very much as does the outgoing war in Iraq. But you know that there is a broader issue that Republicans and Democrats are concerned about and that comes out of 09/11 with the highjackers coming from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Al-Ka’ida. They are asking what are the conditions in the Arab and Islamic world that make them do this? I think that when you look at Palestine suicide bombers, you can analyze and come up with reasons. But, there are many people in the congress and the US who feel that Arab regimes have been repressive and have been resistant to change and that the US should encourage social, economic, and political change in the Arabic and Islamic world. There is this concern and you have to say it objectively. If you look at all the social and economic indicators in the Arab world, they look like this. They have increasing population, a younger population with increasing unemployment, the amount of trade among Arab states is low, the amount of trade in the Arab world with the industrialized world is low, the rights of women are not respected, socio-economic indicator of prosperity is low, women education is a concern. And they say: how do you fix this? So, I would think that many Arabs and many Muslims would say the same thing. Look at what’s going on in Saudi Arabia today and over the past months. They, really, have to be concerned about the future of the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia looks like it’s falling apart. I don’t know, may be it is too extreme a judgment, but clearly they have serious problems. So, this is an issue that the US would continue to care about, whether it is a Republican or a Democratic administration. They would continue to be concerned about it and try to come up with policies to address. Whether these policies will be effective or not, and make that much difference, I don’t know. The US Democrats do believe, at least, there should be social and economic reforms in the Arab world and they are trying to find ways to help that process of reform.

On Khalil’s question: yes, more and more people think that the US is likely to face a strategic defeat in Iraq with unknown consequences in terms of the stability of the region. When Iraq breaks into two or three states, it will become a heaven for terrorists, as Afghanistan, and it will have spillover affect on the stability of neighboring states.

As you look at the people who planned this war, they have very strong connections with Israel and the Likud Party. Some of them even have written manifestoes for Likud, the paper that was written back in 1995 by Richard Pearle and others.

As I look as what’s happening in Iraq, and I look at tactics that American interrogators use, and as I look at tactics that some American military units use, I see strong similarity to what the Israelis have done over the years to the Palestinians. I think that there is a degree of collaboration between Israel- the Israeli military- and the US military that people really do not know about. I heard that some of the interrogators in Abu-Ghreib, particularly the ones that are contractors, are either Israelis or duel national American Israelis.

The question you raised is extremely sensitive. One of our senators from South Carolina wrote an article and made a rather impassioned speech in which he said Israel got to listen to this and Israel supporters got to listen to this. Bibi Netanyahu used to go to Washington every few months to testify before the Congress about the need to attack Iraq. The American Jewish community is hypersensitive to this and when people start to raise it they will use the tact they always raised: you’re being anti-Semitic. That is a very potent weapon, and people can have their reputation ruined if the Jewish community and the Jewish organization really go after him. It is been disturbing to watch how American Jewish organizations have stifled debate. They use intimidation; they use political pressure, economic pressure to stifle openness. I don’t know what the outcome of this will be. If we face a disaster in Iraq, I would think that there would be increasing questioning of the people who adopted this policy and question their links to Israel.

Dr. Gabby Baramki:

Is there a worry about the question of anti-Semitism, I mean anti-Israeli, not anti-Semitism? In Europe they face it now.

Abington:

It’s hard to say how it would play up. A lot of American Jews are really disturbed by the situation. A lot of the American Jews think that Israel’s policies are suicidal to Israel in the long term. And they desperately would like to see a revived peace process and real agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Because they think that Israel’s survival is at stake. But Jews are very sensitive to anti-Semitism and there are Jewish organizations that are constantly beating the gun and would use this as a device to stifle criticism of Israel and Israeli policies.

END