BIG DECISIONS, LITTLE INFO –
The US Congress is a very busy place. In fact t is dizzyingly busy. There are long lines of people each morning marching through the metal detectors and through the security personnel at the front door screening those who want to meet or speak to the Congressional representative or Senator about one matter or another.
I chose this week to spend these few days in DC to lobby Congress along with a half dozen men who reside in the hills of the Shomron in Israel and who work with the Shomron Regional Council. And this event arrived at an auspicious time as Secretary of State was once again trying to piece together the details of an agreement to get Israeli’s and Arabs to sit at a table and negotiate after a three year hiatus.
Why this is so important to Mr. Kerry and President Obama is not really a great mystery. It is essentially about a miserably failed and failing presidency that is tapping around to find a positive achievement somewhere, even anywhere in the world and for some reason Israel is a traditional and comfortable target.
In two and a half days we did a lot of things, met a lot of people and attended some extraordinarily fascinating meetings. The two sessions that I want to shed some light on today took place on Tuesday morning in the Rayburne Congressional Office building in the shadow of the Capitol. The members of the delegation that included Gershon Mesika, the Governor of the Shomron, Yossi Dagan, his deputy governor and David Ha’Ivri one of his aides and spokesman brought some new issues to life for me.
The first meeting was with Congressman Pete Sessions, R-Texas and following that encounter we met with Congresswoman Michel Bachman, a former candidate for President and a Republican representative from Minnesota.
And here’s the news that was brought home to me as I sat in on these meetings. Big decisions are made routinely in Washington with either very skimpy or very minimal amounts of information. And guess what—it is not the fault of the decision makers because they are overwhelmed with issues that need to be decided upon sometimes under the most trying of circumstances. Mr. Sessions and Ms. Bachman are smart and accomplished individuals, but we cannot expect them to grasp every aspect of every issue in its entirety. Perhaps this is not a surprise or big news—but the President does not have a great grasp of many of the important issue of the day either.
As you recall a few years ago when it came to the 2,700 page Obamacare bill in the Congress and what the was actually composed of and constituted, then Democratic Majority Leader, Nancy Perlosi, D-CA, said, “We will have to pass the legislation in order to find out what’s in it.” That today seems to be the clarion call in Washington and that is true even about the life and death and war and peace matter that so intimately affect Israel and all Jews residing in the Jewish state.
So Pete Sessions is a smooth and glib man who obviously enjoys being engaged in meeting with a cross section of people. He is a Republican leader and a great and important friend of Israel in Congress. The delegation from the Shomron are trying to make the following point—we are the people on who’s land the world, that is the US and the Europeans say—are living on “occupied territory,” that should be given to the Palestinians as part of their new country if these two state madness ever comes to reality.
The gentleman from the Shomron eloquently explain to Congressman Sessions that they are a group that represents over eighty Jewish communities and that in Judea and Samaria as well as in East Jerusalem that the Arab world and the US State Department along with the United Nations and the European Union along with the recently deceased journalist Helen Thomas says that the Jews have to vacate, reside over 700,000 people.
So what do they want from Congressman Sessions and from Ms. Bachman and the two dozen legislators they would meet with through the week here in the halls of power? They want these leaders, these molders and those who form and shape opinion to millions back home in their middle American districts to know that these are normal everyday people with wives and children, they are farmers and businessman who want to live on the land of the Jewish people, the biblical land of Israel, in peace. They don’t want to be toyed with like a toy or a yo-yo or just as a statistic that can be played with as plans are being made to extricate them from their homes and land in the interest of foreign policy feather in the cap of a wandering aimlessly Secretary of State like John Kerry.
Pete Sessions listens and in genuinely both interested and fascinated by these men, who they are, their courage and what they have accomplished. He listens as they explain that the European Union has now announced that it will be the official policy of the 28 country Union to no longer fund, invest or do any business with those in Judea and Samaria or East Jerusalem.
Representative Sessions conjures up a lost look as he interjects and says he knows what they want and need but that he needs information and details because he is just not well versed on these matters. “You have to send me information so I know what I’m talking about,” he says. He explains that he does not operate independently but that he is a representative of a district back in Texas—including the vibrant Jewish community in Dallas— with a population of about 800,000.
“I would need consult with my people in Dallas and I would like to make a conference call with them and you on the phone this week if possible,” Mr. Sessions said. So what do these men from the Shomron want? They want to introduce to those in power the idea that Judea and Samaria are not some flimsy little outposts high on a mountain or obscured deep in the woos somewhere. They want acceptance and legitimacy and as of today the powers that be here in the US as well as to an extent in Israel are denying them that right.
Congressman Sessions then stated the fact of the matter straight away: “I’ve decided a long time ago that I take my direction on Israel policy from the Israeli government,” he said. And that makes sense because how or why should a Congressman from Texas disagree with a policy of the duly and democratically elected government of the State of Israel? The only issue is that for their own political expedient purposes today, the position of the Israeli government calls for a two state solution with the so called new Arab state being plopped down in the Shomron.
At this stage of the game all involved quietly understand that is extremely unlikely to ever happen. However, maintaining those plans on the political drawing board allows the residents of those areas to be vilified regularly by the international community. And the aim of this group is to stop that and if possible, turn that negative momentum into something positive.
The delegation invited both Congressman Sessions and Congresswoman Bachman to visit the Shomron on their next trip to Israel. They both agreed to do so and were very surprised to hear that life in the Shomron for both Jews and Arabs is exactly what any kind of peace in the area should look like at the conclusion of the negotiation process (that is, if it ever get started, of course).
Today there is an industrial zone in the Shomron with over 80 factories that employee over 6,500 men and women. Half are Arabs and half are Jews. They work together side by side successfully and without incident for many years already. They are all paid by an Israeli standard which means that the Arab workers are earning 300% more than they would be paid if they had jobs in their own towns. The message laves some of the representatives dumbstruck and they ask for more information like a thirsty man asking for a bottle of water.
“I’ve been to Israel at least five times,” says Congresswoman Michelle Bachman who is a great friend of Israel. “But,” she adds, “AIPAC does not want me to or allow me to visit areas in Judea and Samaria,” she says. In fact, she adds, that AIPAC insists that when she is in Israel that she visits Palestinian leaders in Ramallah rather than Jews building lives and communities in the Shomron. She said that the last time she was in a meeting in Ramallah staring at a large size framed portrait of Yasser Arafat she promised herself that she was not going to subject herself to this again.
She promised Gershon Mesika that on her next visit to Israel she will come to the Shomron. She added, however, that there had to be one condition—that there be no advance publicity about the visit. She said that would be for security reasons but it is also understood that if the information was out there that there would be great pressure placed on her not to go.
The Shomron folks made great inroads and friends in DC, but there is a lot more to do.