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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2007, page 16

Outside the Beltway

Wolf Blitzer, AIPAC, and the Saudi Peace Initiative

By James Abourezk

Wolf Blitzer around 1989, defending Israel at a Penn State University panel. Blitzer was challenged by fellow panelist Norman Finkelstein (


THE FIRST TRIP I took through the Middle East started in 1973, a few months after my election as a U.S. senator from South Dakota. I met with every Arab leader in the heart of the Arab world, including Yasser Arafat and Anwar Sadat, and to a person, each one told me that he was willing to sign a peace treaty with Israel and to recognize it as a country, provided that Israel withdraw back to the 1967 borders.

Voilà—that offer then was exactly what constitutes King Abdullah’s peace initiative today.

When I returned from that trip in early 1974, I made a speech at the Federal Press Club in Washington, DC, telling the audience of reporters what I had learned from my meetings with Arab leaders.

After I finished with my statement a rather short person, who identified himself as Wolf Blitzer, who was then writing for the newsletter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), rose to ask three or four hostile questions, after which he left. (As we all know, AIPAC is the umbrella group for the domestic lobby for Israel.) The next issue of the AIPAC newsletter that came out had a story headlined, “Abourezk Sells Out to the Arabs.”

I had been naive enough to think that such an offer from the Arab world would be happily accepted by Israel and by the United States, which had been financing Israel for a number of years by then. My naivete was short-lived, however, as the war the Israeli Lobby declared on me that day required a response from me, and the battle was on, continuing ever since then.

The current Israeli government’s reaction to King Abdullah’s peace initiative was not really surprising. After all, Israel’s leaders have, for more than five decades now, found an unlimited number of excuses to reject efforts to settle the Palestinian conflict. For years, Golda Meir complained that the Palestinians refused to engage in face-to-face talks with Israel. Then it was Israel’s turn to refuse face-to-face talks until the Palestinians would agree to recognize Israel and renounce “terrorism.”

The point is that, somehow, the conditions for settlement were never right for the Israelis, an excuse which, without question, suited them just fine. In their collective mind, they could more easily handle a low-level war with the Palestinians than agree to give up their occupation of Palestinian lands. After all, no matter what Israel did, the United States continued to give Israel its backing, both in terms of money and political support.

More recently Israel, and the Bush administration, have bristled at Iran’s nuclear advances, trying to convince themselves and the rest of the world that Iran is planning a nuclear attack on Israel. Israel’s lobby in the United States has been working overtime, and very publicly, to get the U.S. to invade Iran as a way to stop Iran’s nuclear program. There’s no question that George W. Bush is the right fellow to have in the White House during this intense lobbying effort by Israel and by its cohorts here in America. Unable to overcome the historic mess he has created in Iraq, Bush just might welcome opening another front to get the public’s mind off his disastrous bungle there.

What did not receive much press coverage last year were the announcements from Tehran and from Damascus that both Iran and Syria would agree to a “nuclear weapons free” Middle East. That, of course, would include Israel, which is reported to have over 200 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, plus the missiles with the ability to deliver them. Such an agreement certainly would seem to be a rational way to calm the tensions in that part of the world. But the offer by these two poles of the “axis of evil” was scoffed at and largely ignored both by Israel and by the Bush administration, as well as by the American media. It apparently is much more fun for the latter to allow Mr. Bush to denounce Tehran on a daily basis without questioning, much less analyzing, Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Of course, in the minds of the media, and of the Bush administration, Israel’s bristling nuclear arsenal has nothing to do with Israel’s neighbors feeling the need to arm themselves. At least that’s what President Bush and his stable of neocon hawks would have us believe. There is one truth existing in all of this, however, and that is that in the past century Iran has not invaded another country. It defended itself against an invasion by Saddam Hussain, who at the time was receiving support from the Reagan administration. Israel, on the other hand, has on more than one occasion invaded, conquered and occupied more than one country, but apparently that doesn’t count.

What worries me more than anything right now is that whoever replaces George W. Bush as president, Democrat or Republican, may have just enough of a testosterone surge to want to start a war with anyone who might be handy. There must be something in the White House water that causes such aggressive behavior, because before they are elected, most presidential candidates deride military aggression, until, that is, they are safely in office.

James Abourezk is a former U.S. senator (D-SD) and founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He now practices law in Sioux Fall, SD.