Democratic Congressmen Say Arafat Was Bad, Abbas & Fayyad Great
Eighteen Democratic US Congressmen visiting Israel say that though they now realize that Yasser Arafat was “the main impediment to peace,” they see “hope” in his successors.
Led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the eighteen Congressmen, 13 of them freshmen, toured the Jewish state and met with the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and other officials, including Bank of Israel chief American immigrant Stanley Fischer.
The press conference, held at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, took place an hour late as the congressmen were stuck in traffic coming back from a meeting with Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas and his newly appointed PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The visiting congressmen are: Jason Altmire (D-Pennsylvania), Shelley Berkely (D-Nevada), Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), Joe Crowley (D-New York, Deputy Whip), Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) Gene Green (D-Texas), Phil Hare (D-Illinois), Paul Hodes (D-New Hampshire), Nick Lanson (D-Texas), Tim Mahoney (D-Florida), Jerry McNerney (D-California), Patrick Murphey (D-Pennsylvania, served in combat in Iraq), Albio Sires (D-New Jersey), John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky), John Tanner (D-Tennessee).
“We have come, as we have in the past, to express our strong unwavering support for Israel's success, sovereignty and safety,” Hoyer told reporters. “Israel is a strong and steadfast ally of ours, as we are of theirs. We have also come to Israel to learn for ourselves what the prospects are for the future and what role the United States can continue to play in bringing peace and stability to the region.”
He said that the delegation’s meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lasted an hour and a half, and that Olmert was “very candid and very hopeful…realistic, but optimistic.”
Arafat Was the Problem, Fayyad and Abbas the Solution
“We met with Dr. Fayyad and a number of ministers from the Palestinian government,” Hoyer said referring to the new Fatah government appointed by Abbas after Hamas’s military takeover of Gaza. “It was a very positive meeting.”
Hoyer began his recollections of the meetings with the statement: “It was my perception over the last four decades that I have been focused on Israel, that Mr. Arafat was the single biggest impediment to progress being made between Israel and the Palestinian people. He was the single biggest rationalizer of the use of terror.”
Though Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement has, until recently, openly backed the Al-Aksa Brigades terrorist group responsible for scores of attacks on Israeli civilians, Hoyer insisted that Abbas and his appointee Fayyad are different that Arafat.
“I think the leadership of Mr. Abbas and Dr. Fayyad gives hope,” he added. He said both men promised him that there would be no reconciliation or future power-sharing with Hamas. “We are hopeful that their observations are accurate. We hope that history proves that the leadership of the Palestinian people will have learned that terrorism doesn’t work as a policy. We hope that will be communicated to all the Palestinian people. We also hope the policy will be to vigorously oppose those who use terror. If that is the case, I believe we can move forward.”
The congressmen are due to meet Opposition Leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) and the families of the soldiers abducted by Hizbullah and Hamas in the coming days.
Muslim Congressman Opines on Islam
Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of the House, was asked whether he saw any hope for the future with so many warring factions within the Arab and Muslim world, let alone the external conflicts in which it is involved. Ellison said that the key to peace in the region is the people of all religions and factions who care about their children and their retirement.
Fayyad Explains Mistaken Payment of Hamas
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) visited Israel with a similar 19-member Republican delegation just last week, after Fatah received the recent outpouring of Western aid and weapons. He was given an identical guarantee from Fayyad that Fatah would not reunite with Hamas. The next day, Fayyad’s government paid a year’s worth of salaries to thousands of Hamas terrorists in Gaza. A Hamas spokesman issued a statement immediately afterward comparing the move by Fatah to the goodwill gestures displayed by PM Olmert toward Fatah.
Senior Palestinian Authority official Youssef Al-Zumour was arrested last week, however for allowing PA finances to be used in paying the salaries of 3,500 Hamas terrorists. Yediot Acharonot quoted PA sources admitting that Al-Zumour paid the salaries on purpose.
Cantor dispatched a letter to Fayyad about the incident, which Fayyad told Hoyer he would respond to.
Hoyer said, however, that, since PM Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the US Consul General all believe the Fatah man's story, he truly believes Fayyad’s claim that the payment was the result of a bureaucratic error.
The representatives’ trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, an independent, bi-partisan, non-profit, charitable foundation affiliated with AIPAC.