Gore 'Cowardly' on Mideast, Says Nader

News & Politics

DAVIS, California -- In a sally that could broaden his support among Arab American voters concentrated in so-called battleground states, Ralph Nader accused Democratic presidential rival Al Gore of being "cowardly" in his stated support for Israel Sunday night, and suggested a more sympathetic approach toward the Palestinians could produce a Middle East peace settlement sooner than anticipated.

At yet another fundraising rally last night at the University of California at Davis, the Green Party candidate told approximately 1,400 supporters that there will be no "peace in that area without justice for the Palestinians."

"When you look at the violence, where is most of the violence? It's in the Palestinian territory," said Nader. "Who are the victims of the violence? Mostly Palestinian young men throwing rocks. Who are the forces that are producing most of the violence? The overwhelming excessive use of force is by the Israeli military.

"So if you want to really quell the violence, you say to the Israelis, 'Back off, these rocks are not reaching the Israeli borders.'"

Nader, a first-generation Lebanese-American who speaks fluent Arabic and received double-digit support among Arab Americans in a recent poll, has been critical of both Gore and Republican nominee George W. Bush for so enthusiastically backing Israel during the presidential debates. "This is not a time to take sides, even before an election," he said at a St. Louis press conference last week.

With a little diplomatic finesse, he said, a settlement is within sight.

"They're as close as they've been in fifty years on these negotiations," he said Sunday night. "Israel has finally recognized the right to a Palestinian state,�� as well as some Palestinian �presence in Jerusalem� and a return of 100,000 Palestinian refugees to their relatives in Israel, he said.

With Israeli soldiers "killing innocent children," America should be pushing its ally to stop provoking the much-weaker Palestinians, who "have got a lot of reasons for their rage," Nader said.

"Maybe if the U.S. is a bit more forceful, and answers questions like (those asked) Vice President Gore a little more candidly, instead of so cowardly ... there will be an agreement reached, and in a few years both Palestinians and Israelis will wonder why it took 'em so long."

The Jewish state should realize it is dealing from a position of strength, he said in St. Louis.

"Israelis want security -- they have security; their own military research institute says Israel has never been more militarily secure and militarily superior than all their neighbors combined," he said. "And I think the burden of restraint has to be with the party that A) has overwhelming military force, and B) that is producing overwhelming number of casualties against largely young people throwing rocks."

Gore has long been one of the more staunch Israel supporters in the Democratic Party (much more so than President Clinton); his running-mate Joseph Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew who has not always been as firm a defender of the Zionist state as some Israelis would like. Bush, consistent with the views of his father, ex-President George Bush, and the Republican foreign policy establishment, considers Israel one of the most important U.S. allies.

Nader, whose ethnic heritage rarely merits comment in the press (perhaps because he hardly mentions it, and generally eschews what he has called "identity politics"), inherited his sense of civic duty from his father Nathra, who chafed at French and Turkish colonial rule in Lebanon before emigrating to the United States during the Depression.

Nearly 16 percent of Arab-Americans say they plan to vote for Nader, according to an Oct. 3-8 survey of 401 voters released last week by the Arab American Institute. Bush led Gore, 40 percent to 28 percent, and 14.5 percent were undecided.

"Nader has particularly strong support among Arab Americans," stated pollster John Zogby, who conducted the research (Zogby�s brother James is president of the Arab American Institute). "He is clearly having an impact on Gore's support. This could be particularly significant in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio -- three battleground states."

There are around 3.5 million increasingly political Arab-Americans in the United States (compared to roughly 6 million Jews). As many as 300,000 live in the greater Detroit area alone. Gore irritated many there when -- in the wake of his pro-Israel debate performance -- he canceled a planned Oct. 13 meeting with Michigan Arab-Amerians to attend White House briefings on the Mideast crisis. A strong Nader showing in Michigan could conceivably be the difference in narrow George W. Bush victory.

Nader's rallies are beginning to reflect the increased role of the Middle East factor in this baffling election. At the "O17" protest in St. Louis, where Nader was escorted from the site of the third presidential debate, typical signs and banners ("Capitalism Sucks," "Same F***ing Difference," "On to Mars!" etc.) were supplemented by a brand new line of dissent: "Indepedent Palestinian State," "Stop Israeli Aggression," and "Peace With Dignity in Palestine."

"By all accounts," AAI President James Zogby said in a statement, "there are several key swing states that both political parties are pursuing. Arab Americans are concentrated in many of these states. Not only is our community politically active, but we are organized. Data also shows that Arab Americans base their vote on issues of concern to the community so that if a candidate were to reach out to Arab Americans, they would be very responsive at the polls."

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