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Jewish World Review June 13, 2003 / 13 Sivan, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Left- and right-wing Jews are both changing their minds about President Bush | As far as friends of Israel are concerned, the history of the presidency of George W. Bush will be divided into two parts: pre-Aqaba and post-Aqaba. Prior to the summit last week at which Bush formally launched his "road map" to peace in a scorching desert photo op, centrist and right-wing American Jews saw Bush as their hero. His June 24, 2002 speech enunciated principles of peace that they had longed to hear for decades.

Bush demanded that the Palestinians renounce terror, and throw out their corrupt and murderous leadership before they could even hope for a state alongside Israel. In doing so, Bush drew a bright line between his policies and those of his predecessors, who always looked to lean on Israel to accommodate the Arabs, not the other way around. Bush promised the Palestinians a state, but only as a reward for good behavior.

These statements dismayed the Jewish left, which saw the June 24 speech as nothing more than warmed-over Likud rhetoric. They saw Bush's rejection of pressure on Israel throughout the Jewish state's counteroffensive against Palestinian terror bombings and shootings as an unwillingness to "engage in the peace process."

Combined with their natural inclination to view the Republican as the spawn of the devil, Jewish doves saw Bush as an obstacle to peace. Their despair was compounded by the landslide victory of the nationalist parties in Israel and the collapse of the Israeli left.


But nothing in politics is permanent, and to the amazement of all, the right and the left have both switched their opinions of Bush.

The right is in despair over the president's decision to apply the heavy-hand of American pressure on Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, forcing him to make concession after concession to advance a "road map" to peace that Bush has wholeheartedly pushed.

Sharon has actually been backed into a position where he must start dismantling settler outposts in exchange for Palestinian double-talk about eventually halting the terror campaign launched by Yasser Arafat 1,000 days ago.

After Aqaba, the only part of the June 24 speech that Bush seems to have really meant was the part about the birth of a Palestinian state.

Bush did appear to mean business when he said that Arafat had to go as the Palestinian leader. That lead to the promotion of longtime Arafat aide Mahmoud Abbas to the new post of prime minister. Bush continues to promote Abbas as if he were a hot Republican prospect to run for the U.S. Senate, but even the president knows that Abbas is merely a front man for Arafat, who retains control over the Palestinian "security services."

Abbas says the right things about an end to violence, but he has as much influence over Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Arafat's own Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade as the president's kid brother, Jeb.

That was amply demonstrated ton Sunday by a Hamas attack on an Israel Defense Forces outpost in Gaza that took the lives of four soldiers. When Israel targeted terrorist chieftain Abdel Aziz Rantisi in a missile strike, Hamas answered two days later with an especially horrifying terrorist bombing in Jerusalem in which 16 Israelis were murdered.

President Bush's response to this might have been written by any of his more "even handed" predecessors: A blanket condemnation of "all the killings" but he pronounced himself especially "deeply troubled" by Israel's attack on Rantisi.

That Bush's attack on Israel was hypocritical in light of America using the exact same tactics against terrorists is almost beside the point. What all this means is that Bush, like Bill Clinton before him, has become so entranced by the prospect of brokering a peace deal that he has lost his moral compass.

Bush's unambiguous war on terrorism has morphed into yet another Washington fantasy about a "peace process" that is geared towards rewarding terrorism.

On the other hand, Jewish liberals are suddenly praising Bush and urging him to stick with the road map. The left, which always thought that the process would eventually return to a point where the extreme concessions offered to Arafat in 2000 by Ehud Barak would be back on the table, now feels vindicated. But those (including this writer)who imagined that Bush would never do to Israel what he did last week are forced to come to grips with the fact that he is, after all, his father's son. For Americans who fear that Israeli

concessions will cost Jewish lives, Bush is, to put it mildly, no longer the flavor of the month.

So is the debate over? Not by a long shot!


The grim terrorist reality of Palestinian politics has already rendered Bush's plan pointless. The question is: As Abbas continues to fail to "deal" with the terrorists as Bush wishes and Arafat remains in charge of the P.A., what will Bush do about it?

If Bush's pattern of following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton's intensive pressure diplomacy, he'll continue to "ride herd" on Sharon to pull back the troops and roadblocks that are preventing more suicide bombings every week, while taking Abbas' empty words at face value.

And that's where the American public comes in. During the hey day of Oslo, Jewish liberals were part and parcel of a concerted campaign led by the Clinton White House and State Department to ignore Palestinian violations of the peace accord. Palestinian hate education in the schools of Gaza and the West Bank was ignored, even as it was training a new generation of homicidal bombers.

It was only after the collapse of the peace process — when Arafat turned down Barak's offer and answered it with war — that some on the left admitted that they had been wrong to ignore the Palestinians' flouting of the accords. That's why Palestinian compliance will be the key to any future progress.

So while Jewish peace enthusiasts think more kindly of Bush and peace skeptics mutter about betrayal, they both have the opportunity to play a key role in the coming months.

Both must keep Bush's feet to the fire over the refusal of the Palestinians to go from words to actions. As once again Israel is asked to trade tangible concessions in exchange for empty promises, it will be the duty of American friends of Israel to insist that the president not ask the Jewish nation to trade land for terror.

If supporters of the road map are truly serious about peace, then they — and not the right-wingers — will have to be the most ardent advocates of holding the Palestinians accountable even if that forces them to abandon their inclination to support anything that masquerades under the category of "peace process."

And skeptics of the "Aqaba process" will need to redouble their efforts to see that Bush doesn't attempt to hamstring Israel's attempts to defend itself against terrorists merely to keep his tottering peace deal afloat.

By sticking to his word and demanding that the Palestinians, as well as the Israelis, keep their word, Bush might actually earn the plaudits he gained for his peacemaker act in Egypt and Jordan.

If not, he will deserve every bit of criticism he gets.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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