Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Domestic Election-Year Politics Threatens Middle East “Road Map”

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 2003

There is growing concern that election year politics will derail President Bush’s “road map” to Middle East peace. Observers note that one key element in the president’s constituency, the Christian Right, opposes the present peace process and another important constituency, American Jews, are being wooed by the Republican Party, many of whose leaders believe that the way to attract their votes is to support continued Israeli control of the occupied territories.  

The initial White House decision to advance the road map, notes M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum and a long time Capitol Hill staff member, “demonstrates no small amount of courage. Traditionally, presidents avoid even the mildest suggestion of pressuring Israel except in the first year or two of their terms. After that, until safely re-elected, they avoid the Middle East like the plague.”  

Writing in The American Conservative (June 16, 2003), Rosenberg argues that, “The reasons for this timidity are obvious. The very idea of proposing a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is treated by many in the pro-Israel community as tantamount to opposing Israel. Those of us in Washington (I worked on Capitol Hill for 15 years) are particularly accustomed to a way of thinking in which support for the status quo - i.e., erecting roadblocks to thwart the peace process - is considered ‘pro-Israel,’ while offering ideas on how Israel can achieve both peace and security through territorial compromise is considered politically crazy and fundamentally ‘anti-Israel.’ Any senator or representative who consistently supports resolutions praising Israeli policies and bashing Palestinians - without offering any realistic proposal to achieve peace - is hailed as a stalwart friend of Israel. No matter if the legislator in question devotes not five minutes of his year to thinking about Israel’s situation ... But those who strongly support U.S. efforts to promote an agreement, who give serious attention to Israel’s plight and how to remedy it, become known as ‘weak on Israel’ or ‘not a friend.’ That, as every House and Senate member knows, is not good for one’s political health.”  

The emerging coalition of Jewish and Christian fundamentalist groups in opposition to the movement toward Middle East peace pose a challenge to those who are promoting the road map.  

In May, an Interfaith Zionist summit was held in Washington, D.C. Among the co-sponsors were the Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Christian Coalition and Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign. The Washington Jewish Week (May 22, 2003) reports that one of the biggest ovations was for Sondra Barras, a resident of the West Bank town of Karnei Shomron and director of Christian Friends of Jewish Communities. She declared: “Judea, Samaria and Gaza are an integral part of Israel. We will stay there and we are not going to leave, God promised the land to Abraham and his children, and I am that child.” Other speakers included former presidential candidates Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer, radio talk show host Janet Parshall, and Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum. All expressed firm opposition to the Bush administration peace plan.  

In a letter to President Bush from two dozen evangelical leaders, organized by Gary Bauer, the president is warned that any attempt to be “evenhanded” between Israel and the Palestinians would be “morally reprehensible.” Evangelist Pat Robertson said: “If they do anything other than make Jerusalem the capital of Israel, they would be messing with the word and power of God.”  

The Jerusalem Prayer Team, a Christian Zionist group that opposes Israel giving up land in exchange for peace, is now urging its members to pour money into West Bank settlements in its newest fund-raising drive, “Adopt-A-Settler.” The group’s chairman, Michael Evans, says: “We must let the settlers know that they are not alone ... We do not support the road map. The Bible is our road map.” Lewis Roth, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, says that the efforts of the Jerusalem Prayer Team and other Christian groups could be damaging to U.S. diplomacy in that “it sends a signal that there are elements operating in the American political sphere not supportive of the road map.”  

The Israeli government has encouraged such Christian groups. After a meeting with Christian Zionists in May, Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon said: “I am here to ask for the support of Bible-believing Christians. No one else has the power to help save the settlers and the settlements.”  

At the same time, Republican political strategists are advancing the view that by strongly supporting the Sharon government an opportunity exists to gain a larger percentage of Jewish votes in the 2004 presidential election. “I believe very strongly that we’re in the process of a significant shift in the voting habits of the American Jewish community,” said Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We’re in the political equivalent of a perfect storm.”  

Columnist Robert Novak (Washington Post, May 20, 2003) reports that “... hardheaded Republican leaders insist they can get 40 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004. They argue that social and economic liberalism now runs a poor second to support for Israel and that they have for the first time outdone Democrats in cheering the Jewish state ... But what about Bush’s advocacy of the road map? He surely had to embrace it to retain Britain in the Iraq war coalition and keep moderate Arab states friendly. The question is whether he will risk Jewish votes by pressing for Middle East peace. Republican activists leave no doubt about their views. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) has called the road map ‘a confluence of deluded thinking between European elites, the State Department and American intellectuals.”  

The question, Novak asks, is: “Should President Bush follow Secretary of State Powell’s advice that American leadership on creating a Palestinian state is essential for Middle East peace? Or should he follow the path urged by his party’s leaders to guarantee his reelection?”  

Israel Policy Forum’s M.J. Rosenberg writes that, “Israel has nothing to fear from the road map. On the contrary, it is the only available way out of the horrific status quo. ... It will succeed if President Bush sticks to his guns. But will he? One can only hope. But no one should doubt the opposition Bush will face if he persists ...”  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.