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Chafee ’75 to call for progress in Israel tonight

Monday, February 12, 2007

In his first major speech since losing his re-election bid last November, former Sen. Lincoln Chafee ’75 will speak tonight about the prospect of peace in Israel, and he says he’ll try to resist the temptation to talk too much about a certain other country in the region starting with the same letter.

“It doesn’t do any good to look back,” Chafee – the only Republican senator to have voted against the Iraq war – told The Herald. “Right now we have to look forward. And I think a big part of the missing debate on Iraq is this important aspect to our success in Iraq, that any progress in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process will help us in Iraq.”

Tonight, in the 76th annual Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs, Chafee said he will “focus on the missed opportunities to fulfill the president’s vision of a viable contiguous Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel.” President Bush stated that goal in a June 2002 speech and later developed the “Roadmap to Peace” with Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, but little progress has been made.

Chafee’s speech is titled “Mideast Roadmaps: An Unkept Promise,” and he will speak as part of a Spring Forum sponsored by the Undergraduate Council of Students. The speech will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Sayles Hall. President Ruth Simmons will make opening remarks on the state of the University and will introduce Chafee.

Chafee also told The Herald that he wants to see a return to “real meetings, real progress” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the United States as a crucial moderator. He criticized President Bush for having so far “declined – despite the rhetoric – to be active in the peace process.”

“It’s a vision that we have to put some effort behind,” he said.

He said the conflict in Iraq, a war that has “turned out worse than I ever could have imagined,” has resulted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being pushed aside by the Bush administration, which simultaneously agitated for peace in Israel and regime change in Iraq.

“They’ve done one, but they haven’t done the other,” Chafee said.

Chafee said a dialogue must be pursued, regardless of the current leadership of the countries involved.

“It’s certainly much more difficult with the election of Hamas – we all know that,” he said, referring to the group’s victory in the January 2006 Palestinian elections. Hamas has refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union and others.

“But nonetheless, this is the ground that we have to play on,” Chafee said.

“My own world view is formed by growing up in the Cold War,” he added, “and that in this era of nuclear weapons, you have to talk to everybody, whether it’s reaching out with Ping-Pong teams to China or detente with Russia. The proven results are you can avoid armed conflict through a dialogue.”

Chafee represented Rhode Island in the Senate from 1999 until his term expired this winter, and he served as chairman of the Middle East subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He often clashed with the leadership of his own party, frequently voting with the Democratic minority, notably on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

In 2004, Chafee told the Providence Journal he would not rule out switching parties if George W. Bush was re-elected. He has remained a Republican.

Despite his moderate approval ratings, Chafee was defeated by Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse last November, and he accepted a position last month as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, where he is leading an undergraduate study group on foreign policy.

Last year’s Ogden Lecture was given by Chafee’s former colleague, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who addressed Iraq, Iran and President Bush’s strategy for fighting global terror in a speech titled “President Bush and the Long War: Are Slogans Enough?”

Tonight, Chafee will call for the Bush administration to keep the promise of working toward peace in Israel, even if the process moves forward slowly. The conflicts in Israel and Iraq are intricately linked, he said, and the peace process must be picked up again in Israel to have any hope of a peaceful Middle East.

“When (Secretary of State) Condoleeza Rice said, ‘What we’re seeing are the birth pangs of the new Middle East,’ there’s never been an articulation of what this new Middle East looks like,” Chafee said. “And I asked frequently at hearings, ‘Share it with us. What’s this new Middle East look like?’ and there’s no satisfactory answer to that.”

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