The Council for the National Interest, a DC based nonprofit focused on achieving a balanced Middle East policy, just released a report on the outcome of the recent House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the Annapolis Conference chaired by Tom Lantos, (D-CA). The topic discussed: “After Annapolis: Next Steps in the Middle East Peace Process.”

Peace indeed. Lantos stacked the witness list with right wing proIsrael supporters, while Likud leaning congresspersons on the Committee spoke. AIPAC’s stamp of approval was everywhere evident.

CNI’s conclusion: “the present Congress is more out of touch than ever.”
It was evident that the purpose of this House meeting was to stall peace and dash any hopes for a two-state solution that exceeded the Bantustan concept of Palestinian enclaves within a Greater Israel that would include the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Further conflict is inevitable.

Not a single word during the meeting was uttered about Israel’s incessant 40 year military occupation of the West Bank or siege of Gaza, the cruelty inflicted upon the Palestinians, or the continuing efforts of Israel to colonize the West Bank, of which it now controls as much as 46%, including not only regions along the Green Line, but the entire Jordan Valley.

Yesterday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a lengthy hearing on the consequences of the Annapolis Conference, which was convened on November 26. The opening statements by Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) and ranking minority member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) were even more biased than the testimonies given by the panel of two well-known pro-Israeli supporters Dennis Ross and David Wurmser. Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) was an exception, saying of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “These men are partners for peace.”

In his opening comments, Lantos praised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but urged against demands for a timetable, and stated his concerns over anti-Israeli themes from the West Bank in the weeks after Annapolis. The ability to stall peace efforts such as the Camp David/Taba show in 2000, has been an Israeli staple over the years while it continued settling the West Bank, and Gaza earlier.

Committee member, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), was also pessimistic in her remarks about the outcome of the Conference, commenting that Abbas has taken few steps conducive to peace. Her other remarks perpetuated the notion that Abbas’s Fatah party is a “terrorist” organization. The terrorist meme, of course, is part and parcel of the Israel propaganda effort to associate Palestinian resistance to military occupation with the war on terrorism.

Most shocking were the comments of Mike Pence (R-IN), said CNI. He stressed that our primary objective should be the security of a Jewish state of Israel and questioned whether or not cooperating in the foundation of a Palestinian state supports that objective.

The testimony of the witnesses went as expected: to undermine the two states focus of the Annapolis Conference.

The first witness was Ambassador Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the research arm of AIPAC. Surprisingly, his testimony was far more balanced than expected. The problem faced by the U.S. in moderating agreements, he said, is that there “isn’t a single obligation looked at the same way by both sides; each side defines their obligation minimally and the other sides’ maximally.” Ross laid out three components for a better U.S. strategy. First, he recommended the re-establishment of ties between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. Beginning locally with major checkpoints, joint security teams would not only provide protection for Israeli and Palestinian citizens, but also act as a catalyst for reform within the Palestinian security forces. Second, with each step toward resolution taken by Israel, the U.S. should urge Arab neighbors to normalize their relations with Israel. Finally, Ross advocated an increase in aid to Palestinians. While government aid is essential, the U.S. could be doing more to encourage investment and job creation. The participation of Arab nations in the conference, he added, illustrates growing support for the peace process as well as a strong stance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

David Wurmser of Delphi Global Analysis Group, in contrast, offered extremely biased and hostile testimony. Without laying out any recommendations, he rhetorically spoke of Israeli concessions, the lack of formal recognition of Israel by Arab states, an increase in European anti-Semitism and “Palestinian embracing the trend of extremism.” Gaza, he said, had become a dangerous terrorist mini-state. He compared Gaza to the Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon and warned that any Israeli concessions would lead to another crisis like last summer’s war.

While one may discount Wurmser’s testimony, it is hard not to recognize the insidiousness of Ross’s testimony. Perhaps the worse aspect of his apparent humanitarian concerns for Palestinian suffering by improving the economic situation, is that it seems intended to be little more than pacification. Bill Clinton, Ross’s boss during the Camp David negotiation, also recently spoke on the need to improve the economic situation of the Palestinians, i.e., to pacify them. There is no mention of the military occupation or colonization process that is going on from either Ross or Clinton. The implications here is that the Palestinians are the aggressors, not the Israelis.

Despite the apparent balance in Ross’ comments, reactions and questions from the Representatives signaled little change in the Committee’s biased mindset. Rather than focusing on recommendations and Congress’s ability to require more from the State Department, questions diverted attention to Iran’s influence and the importance of Israel remaining a Jewish state. On the latter, Ross said that without the protection of Israel’s Jewish identity, a two-state solution risks becoming one part Arab state and one part multinational state.

So even Ross, Clinton’s man, is skeptical of the two-state solution. But who didn’t know that. Now comes Hillary and another generation of strife.

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