In The News

Lincoln Journal-Star: Fortenberry Initiative Provides New Mideast Tool

Jul 6, 2021
In The News

As the long and deadly conflict between Israelis and Palestinians heats up once again, a freshly designed peace and development initiative with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's fingerprints all over it begins to take effect.

The Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, named in honor of former Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, was enacted by Congress last December.

It will provide $250 million over five years to expand "people to people" Israeli and Palestinian grassroots programs that generate peace and reconciliation while also helping bolster Palestinian economic development.

"Congressman Fortenberry and I certainly don't share the same political philosophy," Lowey said in a telephone interview from New York, "but he really has been key in establishing this program.

"He has really shown leadership on this," she said. "I have always been grateful for friends like Jeff Fortenberry."

As the new initiative begins to be implemented, the 1st District Republican congressman from Lincoln has been in direct contact with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the new program.

"He assured me he was very much aware of it," Fortenberry said during a telephone interview from Washington.

"It's being looked at now as a new initiative," he said, appearing in the wake of the newest outbreak of violence in May that left at least 256 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

The Palestinians, who live in Gaza, were targeted in retaliation for terrorist attacks against Israel launched by rockets and incendiary balloons.

"This could help create a new foundation for a road to peace, a new foundation of trust," Fortenberry said.

"Protection for Israelis, possibilities for Palestinians," he said.

During his dialogue with Blinken, the congressman said, he sensed that "they (the Biden administration) were eager for a new tool" in addressing the long and intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Asked to assess Democratic President Joe Biden's selection of Blinken, an experienced national security and foreign policy adviser, as secretary of state, Fortenberry said: "I think he's a very good pick."

Now retired from Congress and no longer the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Lowey said "I'm counting on (Fortenberry) to provide oversight" over the legislation that was named in her honor.

Fortenberry said the proposal, which may have grown from seeds planted 40 years ago, was named for Lowey because "she wanted to leave a marker" and she deserved this one.

Four decades ago, Fortenberry said, he was in the Sinai desert as part of a 1979 student exchange program where he encountered a spray-painted message on a twisted pile of concrete and rubble that said: "Here was the war; here is the peace."

And he has always remembered that moment.

Egypt and Israel negotiated a peace agreement in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter hosted Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat for meetings at Camp David; the agreement was formally ratified at the White House in 1979.

Working to help create and sustain peaceful Israeli-Palestinian relationships may be "far away from Nebraska," Fortenberry said, "but it is ultimately about keeping everyone safe, and that's the objective here."

Lowey helped "clear the way for this," he said.

"Creating conditions for stability and healthy nationalism" in the Mideast is vital, Fortenberry said, rather than accepting the deadly pattern of continuing to "settle scores" in what has long been a dangerous tinderbox.

The new initiative is attracting considerable national attention now.

"The Biden administration was lucky in many ways to come into office with this powerful bipartisan tool ready to go from day one," John Lyndon, executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, has said.

"It's a way for the Biden administration to set something up that could be legacy-defining on this issue."

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