Ron Paul - Reuters - November 4, 2011
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Congressman Ron Paul holds a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, November 4, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Natasha Mozgovaya
Rabbi Levi Shemtov at the White House Hanukkah reception. Photo by Natasha Mozgovaya

1. Republican presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul, undaunted by the Republican Jewish Coalition shunning him at their Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington D.C. this week, continues pursuing his view of what it means to be pro-Israel. At the "Newsmax" interview conducted by his advisor, Paul said of Israel, "We should be their friend and their trading partner. They are a democracy and we share many values with them. But we should not be their master. We should not dictate where their borders will be nor should we have veto power over their foreign policy."

Paul repeated that he objects to all foreign aid because the U.S. does not "have the money anymore," and that money is not what's going to help Israel – not as much as intelligence sharing and a U.S. commitment not to sell arms to anyone else.

2. The controversy over remarks on anti-Semitism by U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman led some Republican presidential hopefuls calling for Gutman's resignation. But it left others sympathetic - and angry.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Chabad representative in Washington, told "Haaretz" he was "very upset" that Gutman was labeled anti-Semitic.

"He said things that might be controversial, and he admitted that. But to call him an anti-Semite? He goes to shul, he is well liked among the Belgium Jewish community, he has a lifelong history of support for Jewish causes - even on a personal level, not only as an ambassador," said Shemtov.

"An anti-Semite is someone who hates Jews because they are Jewish. He is as much of an anti-Semite as I am an astronaut… Once you start calling everyone you don't agree with an anti-Semite, we are in trouble."

3. On the 2012 elections front, the Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich continues stirring controversy. This time, in an interview with The Jewish Channel, in which he called the Palestinians an "invented people".

"There was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community - and they had a chance to go many places," he said.

 

 

It would be interesting to see whether this and Gingrich's other arguments (such as a plan to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, which failed with the two previous administrations, despite similar pre-elections claims), could survive the test of reality.

4. The U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, who returned to Damascus despite the violence in Syria, "picked up where he left off, continuing to meet with opposition leaders", according to the State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

"He's also working very closely with other ambassadors, in particular the French and the Turks, who are in Syria to compare information about what we're hearing to the situation on the ground, particularly our shared grave concerns about the humanitarian situation, the situation in Homs in particular," said Nuland, adding, "Robert's conversations inside Syria, our conversations with the external Syrians, and our encouraging of them to continue to concert efforts".

Nuland said the U.S. is "encouraged" by the efforts of the various opposition groups to work together "on concrete proposals for how a democratic transition could move forward."
The U.S., despite Asad's somewhat apologetic (or denial) interview to Brabara Walters, continues to see him as the major responsible figure for the deeds of the security forces.

"What kind of leader goes on television while his army and security forces are committing the horrific kinds of atrocities that are already going on in Syria against his own citizens and claims he has no responsibility for them?" Nuland asked. "We obviously hold him responsible for them. I can't speak for how the military chain of command works in Syria - and frankly, it's irrelevant. He's the president of the country. He bears responsibility for what his security forces do. And the president (Obama) has said that he needs to go.

5. State Department also tried to downplay the voices of the Islamists in Egypt following the elections, with Nuland saying, "We've only had one round of three rounds of these elections." In addition, she said, "We are not going to judge these parties or these political actors by the names they call themselves. We are going to judge them by how they behave".

Conditioning the foreign aid, she said, "won't be helpful," for the people who the U.S. is trying to help are those Egyptian citizens seeking a democratic future, so cutting foreign aid would backlash.

6. Finally, what is happening with the aid to the Palestinian Authority? Palestine Liberation Organization representative to Washington, Maen Rashid Arekat, can't get through to those withholding the funds, and Representative Kay Granger, the chairperson of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations in the House, said this week at the Council on Foreign Relations Meeting that she can't give the exact number of how much money is still being frozen.

Lawmakers seem to be at a loss when it comes to interpreting the funding laws and unsure of how they should act with the money. But she said the U.S. is trying to use the frozen funds as a way to pressure the Palestinians into returning to negotiations.

"There are several things that have affected our relationship and our funding with the Palestinians. One is the talk about the unity government with Hamas… The other of course is the attempt to go to the UN for recognition" – an act, she says, "means they walked away from the negotiating table."

7. These days the widespread assumption both in Washington and Jerusalem is that the Americans pulled out of the peace process - at least until the 2012 elections. Last of the Mohicans - or the peace brokers - Middle East Envoy David Hale is still going back and forth - and next week there will be additional separate meetings with both sides. With regards to the situation, there are two interesting things to follow next week - the first appearance of the former special advisor to the President Dennis Ross, who will talk about America's upcoming challenges in the Middle East.

It's interesting to see what he'll have to say, now that he's free of West Wing pressures.

Another thing to watch for is President Obama's speech next Friday at the Reform movement biennial. Will it be all about elections and an all-nice agenda? Or will he talk about whether there's still some practical vision left for the troubled region?