Debate may highlight Middle East issues

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The foreign policy focus of the upcoming presidential debate this Thursday has brought back to light an issue that has been on the backburner for some time now; the problem of the Middle East.

The war in Iraq has more or less monopolized America’s foreign news over the past year, while unrest and terror continue to be a daily reality in Israel and Palestine.

While both presidential candidates promise a strong commitment to Israel and age-old efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, their positions vary on some points.

John Kerry has been drumming up Jewish, pro-Israel support by reminding voters of his impeccable pro-Israel voting record.

“For nineteen years, this is a pledge I have kept in the United States Senate — whether through my votes on economic aid, military security, or the location of the U.S. Embassy. And it is one I will continue to keep,” Kerry said in a speech last May to the Anti-Defamation League.

A few key points of the Kerry-Edwards platform on Israel include: Supporting Israel’s right to respond to terrorism; ousting Yasser Arafat, whom they believe is a “failed leader unfit to be a partner for peace” and working towards new and improved Palestinian leadership; supporting the security fence which has served as a tool in Israel’s defense against terrorism; and supporting Israel’s withdrawal plan from the Gaza Strip, and the creation of a Palestinian state.

President Bush re-affirmed his commitment to a peaceful Middle East in his Sept. 21 remarks to the United Nations. He highlighted points in his own policy such as the end to all funding by Arab states for terrorism and the establishment of normal relations with Israel. He also encouraged an Israeli-imposed settlement freeze, the dismantling of unauthorized outposts, and an end to the “daily humiliation of the Palestinian people.”

Similar to Kerry, Bush stressed the need for a change in the Palestinian leadership to help shape peace efforts between Israel and Palestine.

“Peace will not be achieved by Palestinian rulers who intimidate opposition, tolerate corruption, and maintain ties to terrorist groups. The longsuffering Palestinian people deserve better. They deserve true leaders capable of creating and governing a free and peaceful Palestinian state,” he said.

The Bush administration has criticized Kerry’s ‘flip-flop’ tendencies in his indecision on policies regarding Israel. In particular, he has responded to the security fence by saying both that it was a “barrier to peace” and a “legitimate act of self defense.”

Both the Jewish and Arab communities in the United States and abroad are somewhat split when it comes to support for a presidential candidate. According to a poll released last Wednesday by the American Jewish Committee, 69 percent of American Jews would vote for Senator Kerry, compared to the 24 percent who would vote for President Bush.

However, the American Jewish Community has become increasingly conservative over the past few years, and the traditionally Democratic demographic has been drumming up more support than usual for the current Republican candidate.

At the beginning of the month, the Bush-Cheney campaigned announced its California Jewish Coalition. Bay Area Chairman Jeffrey Elfont said that Jewish feelings towards Bush are “quite favorable, particularly with respect to Israel, which is an issue near and dear to the Jewish population.”

Even the Jewish community at the college level, a group which has been overwhelmingly Democratic in the past, is becoming more bi-partisan.

“A number of committed pro Israel individuals have been enormously happy with Bush’s Middle East policy over the last four years; so much so in fact, some consistent Democrats are contemplating casting their first Republican vote. But then there is the other camp that are confident in Kerry’s Israel voting record and are so displeased with all of Bush’s other policy decisions that his support for Israel is not enough to sway their commitment to voting him out of office,” said Jaclyn Schiff, Director of Communications for the Student Alliance for Israel at the George Washington University.

The American Arab and Muslim populations seem split on the issue as well, and in most cases are choosing to vote for the lesser of “two evils.”

“For American Arab and Muslim voters as we have already said, it is completely logical to reject George Bush, who practically announced a war on Arabs… However, Kerry doesn’t represent a better solution from the viewpoint of Arab interests, as the Democrats, as it is well known, are zealous supporters of Israel,” wrote Dr. Abd al-Wahhab al-Afandi in the Arabic Jerusalem, a London based independent daily.

Keeping America in Iraq, and involved with the Middle Eastern economy were cited as other reasons to keep Bush in the White House.

Support for John Kerry is largely related to his promise to withdraw American troops from Iraq, and his denouncement of Bush’s policies that involved America in the war in Iraq to begin with, an involvement that is highly unfavorable to most Arabs.

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