By Rina Castelnuovo, November 17, 2001
WASHINGTON -In a letter to President Bush today, 89 senators
urged him not to restrain Israel from retaliating fully against
Palestinian violence and to express his solidarity publicly with Israel
The six-paragraph letter was intended to prevent Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell from including direct or indirect criticism of Israel and
from offering inducements to the Palestinians in a speech he will give
at the University of Louisville on Monday.
“There is constant concern about the administration’s wavering,”
said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who is one
of the signatories.
“Powell talks about the cycle of violence that suggests one
produces the other and that there is a moral equivalency, which is
not true. Terrorists killing civilians is totally unjustified, and Israel’s
response is self-defense.”
In the letter, the senators praised Mr. Bush for what they called “the
correct course” in refusing to meet the Palestinian leader, Yasir
Arafat, and urged the president to continue to refuse to meet him
until Mr. Arafat has taken steps to end the violence against Israel.
The State Department was unusually critical of Israel last month,
demanding the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from
Palestinian- controlled areas of the West Bank, which the department
said contributed to an escalation in violence. It also deplored the
killing by Israeli soldiers of numerous Palestinian civilians during a
weekend of violence and called on Israel to ensure that its armed
forces exercise “greater discipline and restraint.”
Without referring to those statements, the senators’ letter made
clear that such a position was unacceptable to them.
“The American people would never excuse us for not going
after the terrorists with all our strength and might,” the letter said.
“Yet that is what some have demanded of the Israeli government
after every terrorist incident they suffer. No matter what the
provocation, they urge restraint.”
The letter, which stemmed from a meeting two weeks ago between
leaders of the American Jewish community and key senators, was
proposed by Senator Christopher S. Bond, the Missouri Republican.
Particularly active in providing advice on the letter was the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, the principal lobbying group for
Secretary Powell still has not decided exactly what he will say about
the Middle East in his speech.
“The feeling is that he will continue to work on it over the
weekend,” an aide to Secretary Powell said. “He’ll decide what he is
going to say when he gets up to say it.”
The aide added that even officials in the State Department’s
Near Eastern Bureau “look perplexed because they haven’t seen a
The State Department has prepared a speech designed to serve as an
emotional appeal to both sides to take concrete steps toward peace,
but it is not at all clear to what extent Secretary Powell will ask both
sides to take responsibility for the violence.
Secretary Powell has recognized the deep resentment and anger in
the Muslim world because of the situation in Palestine. Following the
Sept. 11 attacks, he acknowledged in an interview with Al Jazeera,
the Arabic satellite channel, that violence in the Middle East had
created a “sense of hopelessness,” adding that terrorism was fueled
by these “grievances.”
The Bush administration, meanwhile, is facing new pressure from its
European allies to end its detachment from the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and assume a more active role in peacemaking, which they
believe is crucial for any progress.
They urge full implementation of the six-month-old plan prepared by
former Senator George Mitchell, which recommends a cease-fire, a
cooling-off period, a freeze on the construction of homes for Israeli
Jews in the West Bank and in Gaza, and other confidence-building
measures leading to peace talks.
President Jacques Chirac of France has called for an immediate
resumption of talks.
Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who
arrived in Cairo today to begin talks with Palestinian and Israeli
leaders, said he was hoping for a “new dynamic” in Middle East
peace talks before the end of the year.