January 22, 2003

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Pelosi and Sharon
Is S.F.'s congressional representative helping Israel's right wing?

By Stephen Zunes

ON JAN. 29, Israeli voters will face perhaps the most crucial vote in their nation's history, between the right-wing incumbent prime minister Ariel Sharon of the Likud Bloc and the more moderate Amram Mitzna from the Labor Alignment.

The reelection of Sharon – who has refused to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership, pledged never to withdraw from the bulk of the occupied Palestinian territories, and whose Likud Bloc is on record opposing Palestinian statehood – would set back any prospects for peace in the near future. By contrast, Mitzna, a former general and mayor of Haifa, has pledged to support a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the bulk of the occupied territories in exchange for security guarantees.

In short, an election victory by Labor would likely mean that the long-sought peace between Israelis and Palestinians might be at hand. A victory by the Likud, on the other hand, would mean continued bloodshed on both sides.

And San Francisco's congressional representative, Nancy Pelosi, now the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, is effectively supporting Sharon. Consider:

Pelosi has not only supported sending $3 billion a year in direct aid to the Israeli government – money that many experts say is crucial to Israel's ability to sustain the expensive occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights – but she's also refusing to demand human rights conditions for a new loan guarantee that has significant political implications for the future of Sharon's government.

A lot of Israeli political observers say that former president George Bush's decision to withhold a $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel prior to its 1992 election was a key factor in the defeat of the incumbent Likud government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the election of the late Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin. (Rabin went on to negotiate the Oslo Accords and win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts before being gunned down by an Israeli rightist.)

Although Pelosi – like the administration and most members of Congress – has not formally stated her position on the proposed loan guarantee, she has refused to support calls from the peace and human rights community, including church groups and liberal Jewish organizations, to condition the loan guarantees on a freeze of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories or other actions by Sharon that would move the peace process forward.

Pelosi has actively helped cover up the Sharon government's widespread and systematic human rights abuses.

In October 2002, Amnesty International released a thoroughly documented 80-page report detailing war crimes by Israeli occupation forces during its offensive in the West Bank last March. This followed up on a preliminary report issued during the incursions that noted how "the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians. Actions were taken by the IDF which had no clear or obvious military necessity." The report went on to document unlawful killings, destruction of civilian property, arbitrary detention, torture, and assaults on medical personnel and journalists, as well as random shooting at people in the streets and in houses.

These observations were confirmed by Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights groups, including Israeli peace and human rights organizations such as B'Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Yesh G'vul.

In response, then-assistant House majority leader Tom DeLay introduced H.R. 392, "A Resolution Expressing Solidarity with Israel's Fight Against Terrorism," which claimed that "Israel's military operations are an effort to defend itself ... and are aimed only at dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas."

Who would the Democrat from San Francisco believe – the right-wing fundamentalist Republican congressperson from Texas or the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights organization? She sided with DeLay, voting in favor of his resolution, a vote widely interpreted as an attack on the credibility of Amnesty International and the human rights community as a whole.

Pelosi was by no means the only Democrat who supported H.R. 392 – but three of her colleagues in the Bay Area delegation, people with whom she is often allied, refused to do so. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Rep. Pete Stark (D-Hayward) voted against the resolution. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) voted "present," essentially abstaining, as did Rep. Sam Farr (D-Monterey).

With her vote, Pelosi put herself on record as validating President George W. Bush's contention that increased arms transfers – not arms control – is the key to security in the Middle East.

Pelosi has long insisted that the Palestinians' 1993 decision to recognize Israeli control over 78 percent of historic Palestine was not enough, and has consistently blamed the Palestinians exclusively for the violence and for the breakdown in the peace process. On Oct. 25, 2000, Pelosi voted for House Concurrent Resolution 426, by Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), which put the entire blame for the violence on the Palestinian leadership. Pelosi has never, to my knowledge, condemned violence on the Israeli side.

(Repeated calls to Pelosi's office seeking comment were not returned.)

On April 23, 2002, in the thick of Sharon's attacks against the West Bank's civilian infrastructure, Pelosi spoke at the annual convention of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a right-wing lobbying group with close ties to Sharon's government, praising Sharon's policies and condemning the Palestinians. Pelosi insisted that "for Arafat to become a viable partner for peace, he must renounce violence" – but again, she said not a word about the need for an end to violence or the military occupation on the Israeli side.

Many Democratic members of Congress – in fact, many prominent Democrats all over the country – have supported the Bush administration's positions on Israel, just as most Democrats have so far backed the president's sabre rattling and preparations for war in Iraq.

But Pelosi represents one of the most liberal districts in the country – and many of her constituents don't support Bush's and Sharon's policies.

I have no doubt that, had Pelosi taken similar positions on Central America or even East Timor, there would have been noisy protests at her public appearances and sit-ins in her downtown office until she changed her position.

Perhaps that needs to happen now.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project (www.fpif.org) and author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (www.commoncouragepress.com).