WASHINGTON (Aug. 20)
The latest suicide bombing has left some American Jewish leaders questioning how long they can continue to support the “road map” peace plan.
But the conclusion many are reaching is that there’s no viable alternative.
Tuesday’s suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem, which killed 20 people and wounded more than 100, awakened many in the Jewish community from a dormant summer.
With Palestinian terrorist groups declaring a cease-fire and Israel making confidence-building gestures, pro-Israel activists who had been skeptical about the feasibility of the road map had been keeping their voices low.
Many were following the suggestion of President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who said the White House should be trusted because of its positive track record for Israel.
But Tuesday’s attack enraged the American Jewish community, and pressure is beginning to mount on the White House to do more.
The calls are not for a new game plan but for Bush to stick to the road map script, pressing the Palestinians for serious steps to end violence before calling on Israel to make its promised concessions.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the Bush administration needs to be more forceful in its call for the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist groups immediately.
“The administration has to get its message out,” Hoenlein said. “There have to be serious consequences.”
He suggested withholding aid or reconsidering U.S. support for a Palestinian state.
Hoenlein and others are concerned that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas shows either no ability or no interest in dismantling groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Sources said that, privately, the White House shares those concerns.
In a press release, the Conference of Presidents said that Abbas should either “declare war against Palestinian terrorist groups” or “declare the road map and the prospect for peace to be dead.”
It called on the diplomatic “Quartet” that drafted the plan — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — to “move decisively” to pressure the Palestinians and raise pressure on Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria to cut their links to terrorist groups.
The Bush administration hammered home the message to the Palestinians on Wednesday, repeatedly calling for Abbas to take more action against the terrorist groups.
In an obvious sign of the administration’s frustration, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Israel had a right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, a marked contrast to the frequent call for Israeli restraint.
Leaders of several Jewish groups said that they still believed the road map currently is the only game in town.
But some have been worried that the administration’s goals appeared to be changing in recent weeks.
Sensing an opportunity to make progress on the peace plan, the White House moved away from the road map’s sequencing of steps, appearing to focus more on fostering diplomatic momentum than on performance.
That led to pressure on Israel to redraw the route of its West Bank security fence and release political prisoners — two moves that the Palestinians demanded that are not in the road map.
Jewish groups worried that the Bush administration was not saying enough about the Palestinians’ obligation to dismantle terrorist groups as a cornerstone of the peace process.
When Abbas met President Bush last month in Washington, the White House did not ask Abbas to take on the terrorist groups. It only asked him to close smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip and Kassam rocket factories, sources said.
In any case, Abbas has done neither, Israel contends.
Many Jews also are worried that the terrorist organizations clearly appear to be using their cease-fire to rearm and plan new attacks, not to weigh the virtues of peace.
One Jewish official said Tuesday’s attack could have a grisly positive side because now “the farce is over,” he said, referring to the Bush administration’s apparent optimism that the terrorist groups’ cease-fire would promote peace.
“The message today is: How many lives are we going to give this new Palestinian leadership?” the official said.
While the Bush administrations’ stern reaction to the bombing was welcomed, pressure likely will continue to mount on the administration, especially when Congress returns next month.
Some groups, however, worry that the recent terrorist acts, and skepticism about the road map’s viability, could move the Bush administration to disengage entirely.
The Israel Policy Forum joined other Jewish groups this week in calling on the Palestinians to take “immediate and forceful steps to crack down and disarm the terrorist groups in its midst.”
But the IPF’s founding executive director, Jonathan Jacoby, said the Jewish community should also push the Bush administration to stay the course.
“I don’t think the road map should be treated like a hobby,” he said. “The success of the road map as the manifestation of American efforts to stabilize the Israeli-Palestinian area is critical to American interests and the security of the state of Israel.”