Accessibility links

Campaign 2004: Bush and Kerry's Differences on Arab-Israeli Peace Are Shrinking - 2004-08-02


The significant rise in Arab animosity toward US policies continues unabated according to the latest opinion polls. Zogby International reports nearly 100 percent of Egyptians now hold an unfavorable opinion of America. Many in the survey said their first thought when asked about America is 'unfair policy.' According to the poll, the war in Iraq contributes to this perception, but the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict sustains it. VOA's Brent Hurd reports the views of President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry on Middle East peace.

During a recent meeting with the Malaysian prime minister, President Bush spoke about a future Palestinian state. “We talked about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and I told him that I am fully committed to the development of a Palestinian state that can live side by side with Israel in peace.”

In May, Democratic rival John Kerry explains his thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We will never expect Israel to negotiate peace without a credible partner. And it is up to the United States in my judgment to do a better job of helping the Arab world to help that partner to evolve and to develop.”

Many analysts say such overtures about Arab-Israeli peace reveal little difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue.

William Quandt, a former negotiator of the Camp David Accords, says “we all go through the motions now. Well yes, yes, there should be a two-state solution but there is no strategy to get there and that is the missing piece.”

He believes the American role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been reduced to a ritual reading of the so-called road-map, which calls for a Palestinian state by 2005. A claim, he says, no one believes. “The question is: What do we mean in practical terms? Where would the boundaries be? How sovereign would such a state be? Who would govern it? Would it be democratic or would it be militarized? We are not going to see the candidates take positions on those things -- there is very little for them to gain. Yet those are very important questions if there is going to be a viable two-state peace settlement some day.”

According to Mr. Quandt, the candidates have little to gain and much to lose by taking a more defined and resolute position. “The strategy of both camps is to avoid taking controversial opinions on Arab-Israeli issues because they see some risk of losing support, particularly among friends of Israel.”

Judith Kipper, a Middle East analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, says “both parties tap into the American support for Israel, which is very strong throughout American public opinion.” She believes the Arab-Israeli conflict is one issue in foreign policy that has a genuine domestic constituency, including Christian conservatives who often provide unwavering support of Israel. “It is certainly an American issue and not just a Jewish issue. Americans support the special relationship with Israel, they support the aid and arms we provide Israel because Israel is a democracy and it came to be as a pioneering country as the United States did through adversity. Also because there is also a religious attachment to that region by Christians as well as Jews.”

Some analysts say John Kerry has recently shifted his rhetoric closer to the Bush administration's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Mr. Kerry now refers to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as "irrelevant," only months after refusing to count him out as a negotiator.

Philip Wilcox is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace -- an organization here in Washington devoted to fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He believes whoever wins this election must take a fresh look at this issue. “I think the next president, whether its George Bush or a new president Kerry will have to come to grips with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and deal with it because it is an issue that has profound impact on American national security. We are crippled in our war on terrorism if we can not demonstrate that we are dealing with this conflict in an even-handed and emphatic way.”

Mr. Wilcox adds that what candidates say before the election and what they do once they take office are often two different things. He and other analysts believe it is difficult to predict before the election whether a future Bush or Kerry administration will make earnest efforts to re-dedicate America to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

XS
SM
MD
LG