Congress approves resolutions expressing support of Israel and its military campaign
By DAVID ESPO
The Associated Press
5/2/02 5:25 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress clasped Israel in a warm embrace on Thursday, passing resolutions of support for the Jewish state and blessing its recent military campaign as an attempt at "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure" in Palestinian territory.
"Let every terrorist know, the American people will never abandon freedom, democracy or Israel," said Texas Rep Tom DeLay, shortly before the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of nonbinding legislation. Recent attacks directed against Israelis, the House GOP whip added, "are attacks against liberty, and all free people must recognize that Israel's fight is our fight."
"Israel has been under siege ... from a systematic and deliberate campaign of suicide and homicide attacks by terrorists," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the leading sponsor of the measure that cleared the Senate. "Their essence is identical to the attacks on our country of Sept. 11," he said.
Both measures said the United States and Israel are "now engaged in a common struggle against terrorism."
But the bill that DeLay, a conservative who has been outspoken in his support of Israel in recent months, and Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., sent to the House floor was the more sharply worded of the two. It mentioned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by name and accused him of an "ongoing support of terror" in the wave of bombings against Israelis this spring.
The House acted on a stand-alone resolution, passing it by 352-21. Twenty-nine lawmakers voted present, several of them saying they had wanted more balanced legislation. Lieberman and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., offered their proposal as an amendment to trade legislation. The vote was 96-2.
Lawmakers, eager to show solidarity with Israel, have long chafed at the silence the Bush administration asked of Congress at a time when American diplomats worked to stave off a wider outbreak of violence in the Middle East.
With Israeli troops ending their military operation on Wednesday, lifting a siege of Arafat's headquarters, the White House gave its grudging assent to the inevitable.
"The president understands Congress will speak its mind in a nonbinding fashion and the president will respect that," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
Referring to the 535 members of Congress, he added: "The president also understands no foreign policy can have 535 secretary of states" -- words that seemed to say the administration was not endorsing the measures in all their particulars.
Earlier, officials had urged Lieberman, DeLay and other key lawmakers to soften some of the language, and to insert phrases to express support for Palestinians.
Many of those requests were rejected -- including a call to strip out references to "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas." Both measures contained the phrase.
The House bill stated that Israel's recent military operations were "an effort to defend itself against the unspeakable horrors of ongoing terrorism and were aimed only at dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas, an obligation Arafat himself undertook but failed to carry out."
The House acceded to two or three requests from the White House, adding a provision that calls on the international community to "take action to alleviate the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people."
A few lawmakers expressed concern with the legislation. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would have preferred to see Arafat identified by name in the Senate measure.
Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., dismissed what he said was a "simplistic, one-sided" proposal that was political in nature and not in Israel's best interests. He and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., were the two senators to oppose the measure.
In the House, some lawmakers said a more balanced approach would have been preferable.
"Resolutions like this can very well backfire and actually hurt Israel more so than it will help," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
A steady stream of lawmakers spoke in favor of the bills in debates that unfolded simultaneously in the chambers at opposite end of the Capitol.
The resolution calls upon all parties to work toward peace, said Smith. "But it does say it without equivocation, we stand with Israel on the front line in the war against terrorism," he said.
"Israel has not asked for this war any more than we asked for ours against al-Qaida and the Taliban," Lantos told the House. "But when democracies come under terrorist attack, it is morally incumbent upon us, as the world's leading democracy, to express our solidarity. That is what this resolution does."