Rep. Carnahan meets with top Israeli leaders on trip to Jewish State

Rep. Russ Carnahan speaks to a group assembled by the Jewish Community Relations Council last week at the JCC. Rep. Carnahan was speaking about his recent trip to Israel and Ramallah, where he met with Israeli and Palastinian leaders. Photo: Kristi Foster.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

After recently returning from Israel, Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., met with local Jewish leaders last week and stressed that while he has long supported a two-state solution in which Israel would peacefully exist with Palestine, he opposes efforts by the Palestinian Authority to achieve “an end run around the peace process” through a Unilateral Declaration of Independence recognition by the United Nations as an independent State of Palestine.

“The way to achieve that goal is through the established peace process and not by trying to circumvent it by going to the United Nations with the UDI plan,” said Carnahan who traveled to Israel this summer where he met with top Israeli leaders and also with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah. The congressman, whose district includes parts of St. Louis and St. Louis County, was part of a delegation of 26 Democratic members of the House of Representatives, which was led by Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Minority Whip, who Carnahan described as a “staunch and longtime supporter of Israel.”

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Carnahan said the Palestinian plan to gain recognition as an independent state at the U.N. came up repeatedly in every meeting the congressional delegation had, which included sessions with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Describing Peres as “truly a great statesman with a wonderful sense of humor,” Carnahan said that Peres, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, “is very upbeat and positive about the younger generation in Israel and throughout the Middle East who are seeking new opportunities and using social media to express their goals and organize peaceful gatherings.”

Carnahan, who has been to Israel four times, briefed about 50 Jewish community leaders about his recent trip at the Arts & Education Building of the Jewish Community Center. The meeting was organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and hosted by the JCC.

Carnahan said he was “struck by the stark contrast between Israel, where 300,000 Israelis peacefully gathered on the streets to demonstrate for better housing and employment opportunities with the brutal crackdown by the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, in which his security forces are using deadly force against their own citizens.”

Carnahan added that Peres, one of Israel’s leading advocates for peace, “said that the U.N. cannot solve this problem or impose a solution through a unilateral declaration outside of the peace process.” He added that Peres also stressed the importance of Israel’s scientific progress and his continued vision for a peaceful Middle East, which would combine Israeli scientific knowledge with the financial resources of the Arab world.

Carnahan was also favorably impressed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks to the congressional delegation. “We were all impressed with Netanyahu’s directness and willingness to take serious risks for peace, including going to the Palestinian capital of Ramallah for renewed talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salem Fayed.

“Netanyahu also felt that a Palestinian effort to achieve statehood via the U.N. would have the effect of kicking the peace process down the road. He seemed very sincere when he said that it was time for the leaders to make peace.”

The congressional delegation met with Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and leader of the centrist Kadima opposition party. “She said she did not want the Israeli-Palestinian issue to become an issue in the Arab elections resulting from the Arab Spring. Livni also is seeking to pressure international organizations to set standards of legitimacy for political parties, that would ban recognition to groups who advocate or practice terrorism,” said Carnahan.

Carnahan was less pleased with the meetings he and his colleagues had with Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which included President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salem Fayyad. “I was especially disappointed when Abbas simply used his time for a reiteration of past grievances and did not respond to Netanyahu’s offer to come to Ramallah for direct talks. We were also stunned when he gave us each a key chain with his name on it as ‘President of the State of Palestine.’ We made it clear to Abbas that the U.N. route for an independent state is not the way to go.”

He added that members of Congress are “reaching out to representatives of various ‘swing countries’ who do not usually vote with Israel to seek their support in opposing a unilateral Palestinian statehood declaration. He indicated that members of both parties in the House could take additional actions to curtail financial aid to the Palestinians if they go forward with their UDI plan.

Carnahan was more positive towards Fayyad, who “oddly had lived in St. Louis for awhile when he worked for the Federal Reserve Bank here. He is regarded as more moderate and pragmatic but we are not sure how much power he has since Abbas formed a unified government with the Hamas leadership in Gaza,” the congressman said.

In the question period that followed, Carnahan took note of an op-ed column published in the Washington Post by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., in which Jackson “urged the Palestinians to follow the non- violent examples of Rev. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi to achieve their goals and to renounce the use of violence and terrorism once and for all.

“I hope the Palestinians will heed his wise advice,” Carnahan said.