Fixing leaks and the Middle East
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Fixing leaks and the Middle East

The United States continues to deal with repercussions of the WikiLeaks revelations, while the Israel-Palestinian conflict has taken a new turn.

WikiLeaks and Lockerbie

WikiLeaks revealed last week that Libya threatened Great Britain with “harsh, immediate” consequences if Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the sole person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, died in prison. Megrahi, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer while serving his life sentence, was released from Scottish prison in August 2009 after doctors said he had only months to live.

Inside the BeltwayMegrahi’s release sparked protests in the United States, especially from New Jersey’s representatives in Washington. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has repeatedly called for a Senate investigation into Megrahi’s release. Calls to Lautenberg’s office were not returned.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), told The Jewish Standard earlier this week that the latest batch of WikiLeaks documents contained “virtually no surprises” but the revelations have damaged the diplomatic flexibility of the United States and other nations.

“I find it ironic that a group that claims to be for peace would place a chilling effect on international diplomacy for the foreseeable future,” he said. “The United States government has taken immediate steps and begun long-range efforts to minimize the chances of such a massive leak of classified documents. There will never be any leak-proof system, but this latest round of WikiLeak releases has engendered the appropriate level of serious attention to these matters.”

Money for Iron Dome

The House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution last week to fund the rest of fiscal year 2011 by a vote of 212 to 206. Included in the spending bill, which divided Democrats and Republicans, was $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which the Jewish state is developing to defend against kassam rockets.

In a statement to the Standard, Rothman said he was “extremely pleased and proud that President Obama’s allocation for Israel’s Iron Dome program was included in the House’s funding bill for the upcoming year.

“This was a priority of Congress and President Obama, and it is the first funding of its kind for this important short-range rocket and artillery shell defense system.”

The allocation is in addition to the more-than-$200 million already allocated for the Arrow and David’s Sling missile defense systems, jointly developed by Israel and the United States.

“This funding sends a strong message, to both our enemies and allies, by providing more total dollars than ever before toward these rocket and missile defense programs,” Rothman said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) voted for the bill, but Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) joined with other House Republicans in opposing the bill because of other spending attached to it.

“At a time when American families are making personal sacrifices to reduce their family budgets and cut back expenses, I could not in good conscience vote for a federal spending bill that fails to do the same,” Garrett said in a statement to the Standard. “It’s unfortunate that the Iron Dome defense system had to be attached to such a controversial spending bill. I have long advocated separating U.S. funding assistance for Israel’s defense from contentious measures like the bill voted on last week.”

Palestine: To be or not to be

Two South American countries last month recognized the state of Palestine on the 1967 armistice lines. Increasingly, voices within the Palestinian Authority are calling for unilateral recognition by the United Nations of a Palestinian state, bypassing negotiations with Israel. The unilateral threats have been condemned in Washington, where members of Congress have begun to reconsider Palestinian financial aid.

Palestinian aid is important to U.S. and Israeli interests, as well as the Palestinians and peace process, Rothman said. “However, should the Palestinian Authority take unilateral actions, such as declaring itself a state without a prior agreement with the Jewish State of Israel, then the United States must seriously re-examine whether the Palestinian Authority is an appropriate recipient of U.S. foreign aid.”

Rothman called the South American recognition of Palestine “misguided and unhelpful” and said it would have “no practical effect” other than to draw negative attention from the United States.

“Instead of making pointless threats to unilaterally declare statehood, the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate its seriousness as a partner for peace with Israel and return to direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions and to resolve these matters in the interest of both parties,” he said.

Garrett also lashed out against Palestinian unilateral moves in a statement to the Standard, saying that such moves undermine the peace process and cause instability.

“This year, terrorists based in Gaza have fired hundreds of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli communities,” he said. “These human rights violations cannot be overlooked and I believe the P.A. has an obligation to discontinue attacks on Israel and affirm Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state.”

Garrett and Rothman joined 50 other House members in co-sponsoring a resolution, which passed a vote on Wednesday, in support of “a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and condemning unilateral measures to declare or recognize a Palestinian state, and for other purposes.” The resolution also calls on President Obama to deny recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestine and oppose global recognition.

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