Congress Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) spoke about Israel-American relations and his several experiences involving relations in the Middle East to a crowd of about 100 students in McGraw Hall yesterday. Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee (CIPAC) sponsored the discussion.
He described his view on the relationship between the United States and Israel by stating how both countries are “firm allies.” Especially in light of time spent in the Middle East, Hinchey said, “my commitment to Israel is very strong.”
A strong proponent of maintaining Israeli strength, Hinchey sponsored legislation that would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has recently supported a bill that would give an extra $200 million to Israel for the purpose of fighting terrorism.
Hinchey described to the audience what he called his “most heart-wrenching experience in Congress,” when, during one of his visits to Israel, a bomb exploded inside a discotheque, resulting in several deaths.
At the time, Hinchey was the highest ranking American official in the country, so he visited and was able to talk with some of the families of the victims.
“It was a very sad and a very deeply moving experience,” he said.
In order to deal with the threat of terrorism in Israel, Hinchey expressed his support of increasing the country’s economic and military strength. According to Hinchey, without a strong economic base, Israel cannot be strong militarily.
Following a question from the audience concerning the tolerance of terrorist groups in Syria, Hinchey elaborated on the issue of terrorism in the entire Middle East.
The establishment of terrorist groups and countries that provide them with aid are only symptoms of the problems, said Hinchey.
“The fundamental problem is the situation involving Israel and Palestine,” he said.
One of purposes of the bill Hinchey supported authorizing additional aid to Israel was to deal with countries that provide a safe haven for terrorists, such as Syria.
Hinchey said that the U.S. has to work with such countries to combat terrorism. While the U.S. is not likely to go to war these countries over the issue, according to Hinchey, it must encourage the countries to make changes themselves.
Since terrorist organizations are likely to reorganize somewhere else if dispersed in one country, as Al-Qaida did in Afghanistan, those advocating for peace must work to get to the root of the problem. If not, said Hinchey, the situation may only continue to worsen.
Hinchey also spoke about his view on the peace process involving Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He said that he was once optimistic about a peace agreement, but has since become frustrated due to a lack of progress.
“I can remember feeling really good about what was happening,” he said.
Especially during the end of the Clinton Administrion, said Hinchey, there had been a feeling that there was groundwork for a settlement and they were on the verge of a resolution.
“Unfortunately, [Yasser] Arafat didn’t have the courage to sign the agreement,” he said.
He said that while he was initially optimistic about the Palestinians wanting an agreement, he has become disillusioned about their commitment, especially under Arafat’s leadership.
“He can’t say ‘yes,’ and he won’t take ‘yes’ as an answer,” he said.
Hinchey spoke about the current turmoil within the Palestinian authority as a source of frustration. On one side, he said, there are the hard-liners who believe that Arafat is not being strict enough.
However, on the other end, he said, an increasing number of the Palestinian people, including some within the government, have developed a strong sentiment promoting an end to the conflict. According to Hinchey, there has been a movement from some Palestinians denouncing the recent suicide bombers.
“My experience with them is that they are like most of us. They want peace,” Hinchey said.
Hinchey addressed the option of new leadership within the Palestinian Authority and the possibility that under a different leadership more progress might be made.
However, Hinchey said the U.S. should not dictate to the Palestinians who their leaders should be but America must try instead to work out an agreement and be careful to reach an arrangement that would not induce a negative reaction from Muslims in the region.
Hinchey spoke about involvement in the peace process by past presidential administrations and how the Bush administration has “lapsed” in its commitment to the issue. He argued for a more consistent presence in the region. He said he believes that someone who has gained respect dealing with foreign affairs, representing the “power and prestige” of the U.S. government should become involved in bringing the two sides together.
Another audience member, Josh Fulop ’04, questioned Hinchey’s disillusionment with Arafat. In December 2001, the House of Representatives passed a bill urging the Bush Administration to distance itself from Arafat and his organization. Hinchey voted against the bill.
“Seeing everything that’s transpired since December 2001, would you be more inclined today than in December to vote for such a bill?” Fulop asked.
Hinchey answered that he would not vote for such a bill because it would send a bad message to the world because it, in effect, “called upon the Administration to divorce itself from the Palestinian Authority.”
“Despite all of my misgivings about the Palestinian organization, I don’t see the benefit of expressing our opinion that we should have nothing to do with the Palestinians,” Hinchey said.
The question of the effect of a possible U.S. war against Iraq on Israel was raised by Alicia Amdur ’05.
“What people are saying about [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz [’65] is that he is pushing for a war in Iraq because he is very pro-Israel,” Amdur said.
Hinchey disagreed that a war would be beneficial to Israel. “I think it would be disastrous for Israel in the sense of the potential destruction,” Hinchey said.
He added that a unilateral attack would galvanize support for terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaida, in the Muslim would. Of the approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, “tens of thousands” would choose to join the Al-Qaida movement.
According to Hinchey, a war could possibly lead to a break up of the nation of Iraq, with Kurds wanting to establish a state of their own in the north and Shiites breaking off in the south. This would cause a disruption in the entire region.
In addition, Saddam Hussein may be inclined to attempt to bring Israel into the war, probably by launching an attack in order to provoke Israel to retaliate.
“He will claim that this is a war between the United States and Israel against the Muslim world,” HInchey said.
This would create the “potential for chaos.”
Complicating the situation is the lack of sympathy from the entire international community.
“Much of the public opinion will not be with us. And, most of the public opinion will not be with Israel,” he added.
Archived article by Mackenzie Damon