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“Road Map” For Middle East Peace Reveals Sharp Divisions In American Jewish Opinion

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 2003

President Bush’s “road map” for Middle East peace, which would involve concessions by both Israel and the Palestinians, has revealed sharp divisions in American Jewish opinion.  

In March, about 5,000 pro-Israel activists met in Washington for what was billed as the largest gathering in history of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), According to The Forward,AIPAC members, “while attempting to avoid the appearance of a direct confrontation with the president,” embarked upon a “lobbying blitz ... to voice concern about the American-backed ‘road map.’”  

AIPAC was not happy with speeches at its meeting by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell that declared that Israel must freeze settlement activity in the territories once the Palestinian Authority takes serious steps to curb terrorism. “Settlement activity is simply inconsistent with President Bush’s two-state vision,” Powell said, drawing jeers from some AIPAC members. “As the president has said, ‘As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end.’”  

Remarks opposing the president’s Middle East plan drew fervent applause from AIPAC. Christian fundamentalist and former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, for example, delivered the conference’s opening speech and said that it was an “obscenity” for officials in Washington to suggest that “the people of Israel should give up more in order to get peace.” He said that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people.  

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs has called for revisions in the “road map” and declared that, “The road map serves neither America’s purpose nor the purpose of peace in the Middle East.”  

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, expressed opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state of any kind and AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr declared that, “Israel should not be asked to pay for rebuilding America’s alliance with the Europeans or enhancing our standing in the Arab world by pursuing a path that will not lead to peace.”  

According to The Forward, (May 2, 2003), “Despite American assurances that Israel will not be endangered by President Bush’s ‘road map’ to peace - and despite Israel’s in-principle acceptance of the road map - several leading American Jewish organizations are working to cast doubts on the plan and depict it as a threat to Israeli security ... The chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, media baron Mortimer Zuckerman, has been openly dismissive of the road map, calling it a ‘road map to nowhere.’ The Presidents Conference, in its Daily Alert newsletter ... has flooded the community with views of the road map that are almost exclusively critical. ... On Capitol Hill ... AIPAC is gathering congressional signatures on a letter to the president urging him not to pressure Israel ...”  

Discussing the role of such Jewish groups, columnist Leonard Fein (The Forward, May 2, 2003) writes: “For many weeks, there’s been a campaign to subvert the road map - meaning, in context, to subvert the prospect of resuming the peace process.”  

A number of Jewish leaders have spoken out in support of the President’s Middle East peace plan. In a letter to Congress, these leaders said that they wanted to “express our concern over recent efforts to sidetrack implementation of the ‘Road Map.’” While the plan is “neither perfect nor a panacea,” they wrote, “as passionate supporters of Israel, we also know that the Jewish state needs this kind of energetic American diplomacy.”  

Among those signing this statement were Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress and current and past presidents of the national United Jewish Appeal and its successor the United Jewish Communities, including Stanley Chesley, Lester Crown, Irwin Field, Alex Grass, Marvin Lender, Peggy Tishman, and Larry Zucklin.  

“Over the last 2½ years, there’s been just one organized voice that’s been heard from our community, and given the importance of trying to change the dynamic here. I’m pleased to hear another voice emerging,” said Alan Solomont, another signer.  

Henry Siegman, a former leader of the American Jewish Congress, writes in The Financial Times (April 22, 2003): “The Sharon-led government opposes a viable Palestinian state and a political process that may result in one, on the grounds that it would serve as a haven for Palestinian terrorism impossible for Israel to control. It is a disingenuous argument. The contrary is the case: it would be far easier for Israel to deal with terrorism from a neighboring state than terrorism from 3.5 million people it is deeply intertwined with and whose national aspirations it represses ... It is not the danger of terrorism from a Palestinian state that explains Mr. Sharon’s resistance to the ‘road map.’ As indicated by his opposition to every peace move by Labor and Likud governments alike, it is his goal of maintaining Israeli control over all of the territories that continues to determine his approach to the Palestinians.”  

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