In S.F., Maine senator defends Israels commitment to peace

Though a number of top American officials are publicly questioning the Israeli government's commitment to the Oslo Accords, at least one U.S. senator isn't joining the pack.

"Israel has done all it can throughout its history to seek peace," Sen. Olympia Snowe told an audience of 800 in San Francisco on Monday afternoon.

"No one can say Israel isn't working for peace."

Snowe was the headline speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual membership luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel.

The Republican senator from Maine pointed out that the Israeli Cabinet recently voted to redeploy troops from more territory.

Instead of calling on the Israeli government to work harder on the peace process, Snowe said the Palestinian Authority must do more before the two sides can move toward the final-status talks. The Palestinians, she said, must fight terrorism more aggressively and must finish revising their national covenant calling for the destruction of Israel.

AIPAC's other membership events this week drew 470 in San Jose and 375 in Oakland. San Francisco's event was dedicated to the memory of two AIPAC members who died earlier this year, Robert Sinton and Richard Swig.

At Monday's luncheon, Snowe also addressed the threat of Iran and Iraq as well as the need to continue U.S. foreign aid to Israel.

Though Snowe isn't a household name, she does have several claims to fame.

When she was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1978 at age 31, she became the youngest Republican woman and the first Greek-American woman ever elected to Congress. She served in the House until she won a Senate seat in 1994.

Today, she noted, there are only two states — California and Maine — whose two senators are women. Both sets of senators "attribute it to the ocean air," she joked.

Snowe, who has served on the House's foreign affairs committee and now serves on the Senate's armed services committee, counts herself as a "friend of Israel." She has long supported U.S. foreign aid to Israel, a nation she labeled a strategic ally.

"Foreign assistance to Israel must not waiver," she said.

Some politicians believe America should end its intense involvement in world affairs and reduce foreign aid now that the Cold War is over, she noted.

"I feel that would be a serious mistake."

She also asserted that the United States can balance its budget and continue foreign aid, which at $13 billion per year is about 1 percent of the country's budget.

Israel receives about $3 billion in annual aid from the United States.

While support for Israel's annual package is strong in Congress, it should not be taken for granted, she said.

"Apathy could be Israel's greatest threat."

Israel still needs the aid to keep its military edge, she said, because the Jewish state has neighbors like Iran and Iraq.

Concerned that Iran could have the prototype for a ballistic missile system within a year, she supports pending Senate legislation that would sanction Russia for helping the rogue state develop missile technology.

"Russia is not getting the message," she said.

Snowe is likewise unhappy with the international community's response to Iraq's recent hindering of United Nations' weapons inspection teams.

Though some blamed the flailing Israeli-Palestinian peace process for the inability of the United States to unite Arab countries against Iraq, Snowe doesn't buy this argument.

"Such linkage must be rejected as nothing more than a diversionary tactic," she said.

The senator also reiterated that Israel, surrounded primarily by hostile neighbors, has security concerns like no other country in the world.

"That's the reality the U.S. must never…forget," she said.