Giuliani doubts if Palestinians are ‘peace partners’ yet

Rudolph Giuliani’s foreign policy is neither a blueprint nor a prescription, his top adviser on the matter says. It is an outline of how the former can-do New York City mayor does business.

Charles Hill, a former top aide to Reagan-era Secretary of State George Shultz, spoke to JTA Monday after an article appeared in Foreign Affairs by Giuliani, the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

The article describes “a comprehensive foreign policy approach, a comprehensive vision,” said Hill, who is now affiliated with the conservative Hudson Institute. “It’s fundamental to his approach from New York to the world. Everything works by a system, whether it’s a city, a corporation, an international situation.”

His Foreign Affairs article, titled “Toward a Realistic Peace,” raised eyebrows when it suggested that immediate negotiations for Palestinian-Israeli peace were not in the interests of the United States.

“The Palestinian people need decent governance first, as a prerequisite for statehood,” Giuliani said in the article. “Too much emphasis has been placed on brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians — negotiations that bring up the same issues again and again. It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism.”

Giuliani, with his moderate stance on abortion and other social issues, and his longtime friendship with Israeli leaders, is seen as the GOP hopeful with the best chance of siphoning off Jewish voters, the overwhelming majority of whom historically have voted for Democrats in presidential elections.

Giuliani has been a staunch backer of President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and has generally praised his approach to the war on terrorism. But the article appeared to distance Giuliani from the administration, which is encouraging the Israelis and the Palestinians to undertake another round of negotiations that would address at least some of the final-status issues, including borders, refugees and Jerusalem.

The article also could be read as a rebuke of the Bush administration’s push for elections as a first step in bringing democracy to the Arab world and its general refusal to negotiate directly with key foreign adversaries.

After the article appeared, the New York Sun described the former mayor’s argument as a “repudiation” of Bush’s current policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Giuliani’s campaign appeared to seize on that characterization, redistributing the Sun article in a mass e-mail to his supporters.

But Hill played down such differences, saying that Giuliani’s Foreign Affairs article should be treated in general terms and not as a critique of a particular policy.

“It’s a matter of going to negotiations and not declaring things from the top down, but going from the bottom up,” he said. “To be realistic, the foundations have to be there before you can begin to declare peace. Negotiations come again and again in cycles; if you want to see production, it’s got to be well-grounded.”

Giuliani does not count out maintaining relations with Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president. In an address to the greater Washington Jewish Community Relations Council in Rockville, Md. earlier this summer, Giuliani mocked former President Jimmy Carter for equating Abbas with the Hamas terrorist group. Carter said both deserved consideration by the United States and Israel.

“You can’t see a difference?” said Giuliani, eliciting laughter. “We should try to help Abbas, we should be real cautious and make sure that it’s realistic. Make sure we’re getting help from Jordan, other places so the burden doesn’t fall all on Israel, fall all on the United States.”

Supporting Abbas and playing down talk of statehood are not inconsistent, Giuliani’s advisers say.

“The main thing I would emphasize is that Mayor Giuliani believes that the Palestinians should have a state only if they earn it by fulfilling much the same set of conditions that are specified in the road map,” Norman Podhoretz, the former Commentary editor and another adviser to the candidate, told JTA in an e-mail. He was referring to an earlier plan for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations put forth by the Bush administration that has largely been overtaken by events in the region.

In campaign appearances, the thrust of Giuliani’s pitch is that he backs a foreign policy that puts the United States on the offensive.

He keeps what he calls his 12 commitments on a card tucked into his pocket, and No. 1, he says as he pulls it out, is “Keep America on the offense.”

In his recent article, Giuliani appeared to criticize the Bush administration for stressing elections in the Middle East, instead of focusing on building “sound legal, institutional, and cultural foundations.”

“History demonstrates that democracy usually follows good governance, not the reverse,” Giuliani wrote, citing the election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories as evidence of the need for the United States to be realistic about “how much we can accomplish alone and how long it will take to achieve lasting progress.”

Giuliani also staked out a more open approach to diplomacy than the Bush administration has.

“In recent years, diplomacy has received a bad name, because of two opposing perspectives,” he wrote. “One side denigrates diplomacy because it believes that negotiation is inseparable from accommodation and almost indistinguishable from surrender. The other seemingly believes that diplomacy can solve nearly all problems, even those involving people dedicated to our destruction.”

Bush has rejected expansive diplomacy with Iran and Syria, confining contacts with both nations to mostly low-level discussions on containing the insurgency in Iraq. Giuliani said he would not rule out negotiations with Iran, as long as it was from a position of strength.

“You look in front of you, see what there is to work with,” Hill said. Right now in the Middle East, “there’s a lot to work with but it needs to be put in good working order.”

JTA intern Melissa Apter contributed to this story.