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[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ] > FORWARD > > Pro-Israel Activists Seek To Avoid Rift With Administration Over Peace Plan > > > > > Hope To Work On Its Content > > > > Beginning of Pressure? > > By ORI NIR > Forward Staff WASHINGTON — Jewish lobbyists were in hair-trigger reaction > mode this week: furious at the Bush administration for its plans to release > an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but wary of openly confronting the White > House on the eve of war. > > With his surprise decision to release the "road map" to peace — announced > in a March 14 speech — President Bush was plainly threading a diplomatic > needle. He seemed caught in an impossible squeeze, between Israel and its > allies in the United States who object to any efforts to boost support for > war by advancing the peace process, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, > whose political survival could depend on such a linkage. > > The apparent importance of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Blair's > political future became clear days after the Bush speech: A key British > Cabinet member, Clare Short, went back Tuesday on her threat to resign over > the prime minister's Iraq policy. Three other Labor Cabinet members did > step down, but Parliament voted Tuesday in favor of a resolution > authorizing that "all means necessary" be used to disarm Iraqi leader > Saddam Hussein. > > While Bush's speech appeared to help prop up Blair, it sparked anxiety and > anger among some Jewish communal leaders who had received tacit White House > assurances that the road map would not be unveiled until after the Iraq > war. The specter of an open confrontation with the Jewish commmunity comes > at a particularly risky time for Bush, as an expected 5,000 pro-Israel > activists prepare to descend on Washington > > in a week for the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs > Committee. > > Despite immediate White House attempts at damage control — including a > meeting right after Bush's speech between Jewish communal leaders and > National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice — several pro-Israel lobbyists > were voicing concern that the administration's flip-flop on when to unveil > the road map could eventually generate undue pressure on Sharon. > > "Palestinian terrorism continues unabated and the reforms promised by the > Palestinian Authority leadership are just beginning to emerge," Abraham > Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a > statement. "The Administration's current initiative sets a terrible > precedent by appearing to placate those nations who are opposed to > America's confrontation with Iraq." Foxman added: "The damage of the > Administration's statement and its timing was compounded by British Prime > Minister Tony Blair's remarks, directly linking the Israeli-Palestinian > conflict and Iraq." > > The Orthodox Union issued its own critical statement, though its leaders > have steadfastly and enthusiastically praised Bush's handling of Middle > East issues. > > These sentiments were echoed on Capitol Hill, where staunchly pro-Israel > legislators attacked Bush over the timing of his decision to present the > road map, sponsored by the so-called Madrid Quartet comprised of the United > States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. > > "On the brink of war, at the very last moment, Israel has become a pawn in > the president's strategy on Iraq, and that to me is very troubling," said > Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat on the House international relations > committee. > > A spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — a Texas Republican and > staunch White House ally who has called the quartet's plan a "road map to > destruction" — refused to comment directly on Bush's speech. But the > spokesman referred the Forward to DeLay's condemnation of the road map > during a speech at the O.U.'s Washington convention last week. > > Despite reassurances provided by Rice, "We remain concerned," said Malcolm > Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major > American Jewish Organizations. "Our concern is not the intent" of Bush and > his advisers, Hoenlein said. "Our concern is that the road map could > develop a dynamic of its own." > > Such a dynamic, Hoenlein told the Forward, could end up seriously > undermining Bush's previous commitment — announced in a June 24 speech — > that negotiations on a Palestinian state would not begin until the > Palestinian Authority underwent significant political reform and terrorism > ceased. > > Still, for now leaders at several Jewish groups, including Aipac, say they > will not openly oppose the plan, citing a reluctance to criticize a > war-time president who has until now been a dependable ally and is > currently lobbying Congress to approve an aid package for Israel. > > Asked why Jewish organizations were not more publicly critical, one > activist in Washington said: "On the verge of war, who wants to be seen as > being in conflict with a president that we consider so pro-Israel?" Another > activist said that Bush "had banked so much credit over the last two years > that what otherwise might have been seen as a capitulation, at this point > is not." > > Perhaps the most important factor behind the muted criticisms was the > Israeli government's decision to voice public support for the president, > while working behind the scenes to alter the current version of the road > map. > > "We see eye to eye with President Bush," an Israeli Foreign Ministry > spokesman in Jerusalem said. "We share his vision and we are of the > conviction that once there is a Palestinian prime minister with real powers > who will begin fighting to stop terror, then Israel will be willing to > begin discussing a solution." > > But despite such comments, and although the plan has been devised in > consultation with Israel, Sharon and his aides have let it be known that > they have numerous concerns about the third and latest draft of the plan. > The Israeli daily Ha'aretz recently reported that a team of experts > appointed by Sharon prepared a counter-document proposing more than 100 > changes to the current version of the plan. > > Pro-Israel groups say they will work to produce a document more reflective > of Bush's June speech and more palatable to the government of Prime > Minister Sharon. Aipac officials say this approach will prevail during > their convention March 30 to April 1, as their members flood Capitol Hill > to lobby for Israel. > > "We will lobby for legislation that codifies President Bush's June 24 > speech," said Aipac spokeswoman Rebecca Needler. "And we will lobby for a > road map that implements the president's vision of peace as laid out on > June 24." > > The road map is expected to be submitted to Israel and the P.A. as soon as > Yasser Arafat appoints a prime minister, following this week's approval in > the Palestinian Legislative Council of a law defining the powers of the new > position. The appointment of a prime minister — which could come by the end > of the week — had been demanded by the White House as the first in a series > of reforms that the P.A. needed to enact before the peace process could be > restarted. The candidate for the job is longtime Arafat deputy and Fatah > co-founder Mahmoud Abbas, known by his nom-de-guerre Abu Mazen. > > The publication of the road map could complicate Israel's attempts to > revise it. "Once the document is on the table, it is very difficult to > backtrack," Hoenlein said. However, Israel and its American backers note > with satisfaction that Bush said in his recent speech that both Israel and > the Palestinians are welcome to "contribute" to the document after its > publication, indicating that the plan is still subject to change. > > A key concern Israeli concern is the role that America's partners will play > in verifying the Palestinians' compliance with the plan. Israel does not > trust the three other members of the Madrid Quartet, and does not want to > see them placed in the role of arbiter or referee over the plan's > implementation process. The plan involves a sequence of reciprocal steps > taken by Israel and the Palestinians, eventually leading to the creation of > a Palestinian state in less than three years. > > Another major Israeli concern is the degree of independence and sovereignty > that a Palestinian state would enjoy under the current plan. According to > Israeli press reports, Sharon is demanding that the adjective "independent" > be struck from the language of the road map. > > Sharon's government intended to submit its list of reservations to the Bush > administration after the war with Iraq, based on a tacit understanding with > Washington that the road map would not be officially submitted to the > parties before the outbreak of hostilities. > > But last week the Bush administration reneged on this understanding and > said it would submit the plan within days, immediately after the P.A. > officially appointed a new prime minister. > > Jewish organization officials who participated in the meeting with Rice > expressed particular concern over the timing of the president's address. > They complained that the speech was clearly meant to help him navigate > through his administration's diplomatic fiasco at the U.N. over an Iraq > resolution. > > Immediately after the speech — before she met with the Jewish community > leaders — Rice gave a long interview to the popular Arabic-language > satellite television station Al Jazeera in which she said that the United > States may soon invite the new Palestinian prime minister to the White > House. > > Experts are divided over the extent to which Bush's statement would > actually speed up the road to peace. Some say that Bush allowing further > re-negotiation of the road map language could stretch the process out > endlessly. Others countered that even though the door was left open for > further bargaining, major changes were unlikely to take place, since any > changes made to the document after its publication would be subject to > quid-pro-quo demands made by the opposing side. > > Observers seem to agree, however, that the degree to which the road map > will be pursued and implemented depends on American resolve to make > Israeli-Palestinian peace not just a policy priority of the American > government, but also a personal priority of the president. > > "The only way this could ever work," said University of Maryland professor > Shibley Telhami, an expert on American policy in the Middle East, "is if > the president personally holds its hand and follows it through." > > Meanwhile, according to an Associated Press report, Republican Senator John > Warner, of Virginia, sent a letter to Bush last week urging that a plan to > insert NATO peacekeepers into the territories be included in the road map. > > _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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