Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

CHICAGO: US foreign policy has a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to obtaining accurate information on the challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians or achieving peace, the member told Arab News on Wednesday. of Illinois Congressman Sean Casten (D-6th).

Elected in 2018 after defeating conservative Peter Roskam, Casten said he saw how the “status quo” provoked extremists on both sides, Hamas and Israeli settlers, during two visits to Israel and then to the West Bank.

Casten said he supported a two-state solution but believed it would be difficult to achieve under current circumstances. He stressed his support for Israel’s right to security in the face of Hamas threats, as well as the rights of Palestinian civilians, citing experiences he saw Palestinian farmers face armed settlers in Bethlehem last February .

“We went there the last time I was there, it was last February. We had entered and met several Palestinians. They (Israeli settlers) have a farm on the hill above their farm, and it’s basically an outpost with armed settlers who regularly come down and shoot their (Palestinian) cattle,” Casten recalled of the trip. .

“And we’re sitting there saying we’re members of Congress. Why not go up? And they were like no, no… ‘You’re gonna get shot if you do that, don’t walk up there’, which is weird because normally as a congressman you can go anywhere. We then came back and we met Tom Knives, the US Ambassador to Israel, who’s a lovely guy, and we started talking to him about it and it was clear he didn’t know about these realities on the ground because as Ambassador to Israel he can only visit that area under supervision. And so, we need information. We have this blind spot in American foreign policy right now. »

Casten said the situation he saw there reinforced his belief that reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinian affairs, which is one of President Joseph Biden’s goals, is essential.

“We have Palestinian communities that need to be represented. They no longer have an embassy. Should we push to create this embassy? Sounds like a good thing Congress should be doing. We don’t take sides. We’re just saying we need to make sure people [are safe]. We spoke to a guy who runs the Hope Flowers School which teaches non-violence in Bethlehem. He has no one to talk to at the moment. So we raise this issue and then we hear, well, ‘Be careful pushing this because, as you’ve seen, the Knesset is very divided right now and if you push too hard it could create the rise , the return of the Israeli political right,” Casten said.

“I’m completely in [support] of that (opening of the American consulate). But the challenge is how do you do that in a way that suits the circumstances on the ground there? »

Casten complained that the American understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by activists on both sides in the United States and that a greater effort must be made to hear the views of all those involved in order to better understand reality. He said the United States needed to “understand how this affects politics on the ground” in order to address these challenges.

Appearing on “The Ray Hanania Show,” broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, Casten said his experiences showed how one can not only listen to activists advocating for their causes, but one must also hear from others to better understand barriers. that prevent peace.

“There is so much pressure in our American system to be sensitive to American citizens who are defending the region. And I think it’s so dangerous to only listen to these bands if you haven’t spoken to bands on the ground… I’ve met everyone from Prime Minister (Mohammed) Shtayyeh to (President) Mahmoud Abbas through (Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and (Alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid this last time,” Casten said.

“Everyone will tell the Americans who are there that the system is very fragile. If you push us too hard, you will see the rise of the right on the Israeli [side], if you push us too hard, you will see the rise of Hamas on the Palestinian side. And there’s this huge pressure that says, “Please don’t violate the status quo. And yet, we all know that the status quo is untenable. I think the surest way to jeopardize the security of everyone in the region is to maintain the status quo where you have a group of people with no property rights and less and less hope.

Casten observed how the recent signing of peace agreements between Israel and other Arab states has changed the dynamics of what many Israelis see as the path to peace.

“The feeling on the ground in Israel, I think there was a feeling in Israel that there is no path to regional peace without a resolution of the Palestinian issue,” Casten said.

“And with the adoption of the Abraham Accords, with the growing concerns of a nuclear Iran, the feeling I get on the street when I talk to the Israelis there is that they have almost reversed the fact that until we have regional peace, we don’t have to worry about the Palestinian issue. I don’t know how to solve this. I feel better about our opportunity to solve this problem when we have more centrist moderate governments Of course, the Israeli government has been very fragile for four or five years.”

Casten said he supports the two-state solution but does not know how to achieve it in the current political dynamics.

“I absolutely support it, and I wish I could tell you that I saw a way to do it. I don’t know how you have a democratic Jewish Israel that doesn’t have two states with consistent borders,” he said. Casten.

“I’ll also share with you, I’ve yet to meet an Israeli leader who is committed to the idea that they don’t have full control of security, which is a state and a half. And I don’t I have yet to meet a leader of the Palestinian Authority who does not have a business card or a map that goes from the Jordan to the sea.”

Casten also said he was optimistic in cases like the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh that one could criticize Israel without being anti-Israel. Palestinian witnesses said they believed the Palestinian-American citizen was killed May 11 by an Israeli sniper’s bullet, but the Israelis resisted that conclusion.

“There are a lot of pressures in our domestic politics. But I think we should be able to manage,” Casten said when asked if responsibility for Abu Akleh’s murder would be resolved.

“I have always been sensitive to that fine line of Frederick Douglass when he said that the nation’s best friend is he who admits his faults rather than covering himself in the specious garb of patriotism. He was speaking, of course, of the ‘America. But I think in the same way, for the United States to be a good friend of Israel, like we are, we also have to be willing to say as a friend, you’re not perfect. .

Casten is a scientist, clean energy entrepreneur and CEO who has dedicated his life to fighting climate change. He serves on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and is Vice Chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Markets. capital.

Casten takes on fellow Democratic congresswoman Marie Newman in the June 28 election primary. Newman did not respond to several requests to appear on the radio show.

The Ray Hanania Show airs live every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit, including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC, including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show reairs Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 p.m. on WNWI AM 1080.

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