•The best chance for Palestinian–Israeli peace will come from the Arab League and Israelis working together
•Mahmoud Abbas does not have the political strength or commitment to negotiate a peace agreement
•Peace between Palestinians and Israelis will not solve all the problems of the region
•Saudi-led Islamic Coalition to fight terrorism a “very positive step”
•Iran nuclear deal imperfect because it failed to address ballistic missile tests and Tehran’s support for terrorism
•Soft power is an important tool in working towards peace and avoiding wars
Washington: Mostafa El-Dessouki
Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey was considered a top contender for appointment to Hilary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat after Clinton was nominated to be Secretary of State by then-U.S. President Barack Obama. She serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Lowey’s portfolio includes influence over funding of the U.S. State Department as well humanitarian and civil aid projects to foreign countries through such donor foundations as the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID].
In her interview with Majalla, Lowey reflects on her recent meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan and their discussion on the crucial role the King and the Arab league can play in reaching a peace agreement between Palestine and Israel. She shares her impressions of Saudi Arabia’s establishment of an “Islamic coalition against terrorism” as a united force for peace in the region. She also outlines how foreign aid for education can be an important tool in working towards peace.
*King Abdullah of Jordan recently met with you and other members of your committee. What were some of the outcomes of the session?
-I have enormous respect for King Abdullah and am very fond of him. He’s now going to be chairman of the Arab League for the next year and I expressed optimism that perhaps he, working with responsible people, could work out a peace agreement [between Israelis and Palestinians]. I have been supportive of the two-state solution for a very very long time. I do believe very strongly that it has to come from negotiations with the two parties involved. But, as I was discussing with King Abdullah – having met with [Palestinian president] Mahmoud Abbas more than twenty times over the years – I don’t think Abbas has the political strength or commitment to negotiate an agreement. So what we were talking about is the possibility of King Abdullah working with the Israelis and the other countries of the Arab League, and bringing a proposal — many have been on the table for a very long time — to Abbas. If the Arab League and the Israelis were working together, then I think this could be a stronger, real hope for negotiation.
*Can you elaborate on why you feel Abbas would not likely reach a peace accord with Israel without the involvement of other Arab countries?
-This is the year 2017. President Clinton tried to bring the parties together, at the end of his administration. George Bush tried at the end of his administration to bring the parties together. We know the Olmert proposal, where he gave so much and Abbas walked away. I’m not doing a psychoanalysis of Abbas. I can’t analyze whether Abbas the inclination [to do a deal]. But it’s my view –having met him many many times, and understanding the tenuous situation — I certainly think he doesn’t have the political strength to be a willing partner in any negotiation. And no matter how many times I told him that I think having the Israelis as a partner would bring more stability to him and the country rather than worrying about Hamas, I don’t think he has the strength to do it. In my judgment, Abbas doesn’t have the political strength while his commitment is a question mark. I think that backed by the Arab League, working with King Abdullah of Jordan, working with the Israelis, I think Abbas would be more likely to find strength to be an active part of negotiations – if the Arab world supports it.
*The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is alas dwarfed by bloodier conflicts in the region today. Is there a question of perspective?
-Many people say the lack of a two-state solution is what has led to turbulence around the world. I think that’s nonsense. And I don’t think, as some have said, that a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis will solve all the problems of the region. But with the fact that Iran just shot a ballistic missile the other day [February 1] – I think Iran should cause concern for Abbas, given that he’s surrounded by terrorist groups wanting to really take over the territory. Perhaps it will be an incentive to be part of renewed peace negotiations, with the encouragement of the Arab League. And I do think that we have an opportunity with King Abdullah as chairman of the Arab League to bring the parties together.
*Last year Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, announced the establishment of an “Islamic coalition against terrorism.” What impressions have you formed of this initiative?
-The Islamic Coalition is certainly welcome. I think it’s a step in the right direction. The Sunni-Shi’ite divide has been part of history for a very long time, so I’m not going to comment on that. But the fact that the Saudis having taken that action, hopefully means there will be a coalition which will take active steps in trying to bring some reasonable accommodations to the region. Certainly a coalition of those who are going to stand strong against terrorism is certainly a very positive action.
Now the Iranian nuclear deal has been signed. I didn’t vote for it because I thought it was imperfect. It was an important step in dealing with nuclear activity, but imperfect because it didn’t deal with their ballistic missiles activity, nor did it take into consideration the support by Iran of other terrorist groups. It didn’t stop the genocide in Syria, which the world witnessed. People are dying all over the region. Until now, I don’t think there has been leadership in bringing all those parties together who are opposed to Iranian actions – whether it’s the Saudis or the Jordanians. I think that if a coalition could be established against terrorism, including the Israelis, then that would be a great foundation for the future.
As ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, you help steer decision-making about foreign aid. What are your aspirations and concerns with respect to foreign aid at the dawn of a new administration?
I have been a leader in support of educating girls around the world. Education for girls and boys gives them not just the education, but also the self-confidence and leadership skills to be a force for good and for peace. I was very disturbed when this administration talked about cutting foreign aid by forty percent. I hope that is not a policy that is implemented. I have been a strong advocate of lifting people up through education, through health care, job training, skills training – I think soft power is an important tool in working towards peace and avoiding wars. And it’s more cost-effective than military hardware. I am very proud of the work that USAID has done throughout the world. I’m very concerned and apprehensive about the views of this administration. So it remains to be seen where soft power is on their agenda.