The Battle for Washington

So sweeping is the success of the Israeli right and its allies among the Jews (and Christians) in the United States that an unchallenged political axiom has emerged, to the effect that if the president decides to push ahead with the road map, he will generate hostility among millions of voters.

Next Tuesday, about 3,000 activists of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, will come to Capitol Hill in Washington in an impressive display of support for Israel. They have a complex mission this time, as the United States is at war, and it's not a convenient moment to clash with the administration.

Nevertheless, prominent Jewish leaders told Haaretz correspondent Nathan Guttman (March 26), they will not mute their criticism of the "road map" that is being drawn up in Washington. Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, doesn't like the "timing" of the map or the fact that President George Bush has created a connection between the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, promises that if the Israeli government expresses reservations about the road map, it will have the support of the Jewish community, and "we will not hesitate to make our voice heard."

Before their annual conference concludes, the 3,000 AIPAC activists will undoubtedly be asked, upon their return home, to encourage their friends and relatives to write to their representatives in Congress and make known their concern about the road map and about the linkage the administration is creating between the war in Iraq and peace here. Senators and members of the House of Representatives will duly receive stacks of letters and telegrams, along with faxes and e-mails, from which they will conclude that the American Jewish community, like the Israeli Jewish community, has fears and anxieties about the road map that the administration officials are preparing.

That's how it works. AIPAC has plenty of influence and clout, and it tilts to the right. The majority of the other Jewish organizations are also on the right when it comes to the conflict.

So sweeping is the success of the Israeli right and its allies among the Jews (and Christians) in the United States that an unchallenged political axiom has emerged, to the effect that if the president decides to push ahead with the road map, he will generate hostility among millions of voters. This is presented as an unassailable fact in the political discourse and in newspaper commentaries. The only point that remains unclear is whether Bush will accede to the urgings of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and of his own State Department and adopt the map despite the political risk that step entails.

Other voices within the American Jewish public, of a more moderate character, are shunted to the margins of organized Jewish life. The trouble is that what is shunted aside along with them is Israel's vital interest - as many Israelis view it - that the hoped-for allied military victory in Iraq will indeed usher in a period of vigorous activity by the United States in our region, with the aim of imposing a phased settlement on the warring sides and thus bring the conflict to an end. It is truly difficult to imagine a more absurd missed opportunity than one in which some 300,000 American troops are sent to the Middle East to fight Saddam Hussein and make peace in Iraq - and then leave while the bleeding wound known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to fester.

Israelis who take this approach are pinning their hope - almost a last hope - on the emergence of a new order in this region in the wake of the war. True, those same Israelis pinned the same hope on a different Bush and a different war, 12 years ago. And that hope was actually almost realized, but in the end was shattered, largely because of Yasser Arafat. Now, as a first stage in the new order, even before the removal of Saddam, Arafat has been removed from his status as sole decision maker within the Palestinian leadership.

According to the road map, that achievement is meant to open the way to the resumption of security cooperation between the sides, to a general cease-fire and to an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-intifada lines. By the terms of the draft road map of December 20, 2002, Israel is also called upon to freeze the settlements, "including natural growth," and to agree this year to the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders.

That scenario is a nightmare for the Israeli right, and it is operating in Washington, by the accepted democratic means of lobbies and pressure groups, to effectively get the plan shelved. The right wing believes that this is a patriotic act par excellence.

However, what about the peace camp? How do people there give expression to their patriotism? After all, they too believe, from their point of view, that the country must be saved from an approaching existential danger in the form of a demographic conquest by the conquered nation.

The region would appear to be at a decisive juncture, and the decision will be made mainly in Washington. The peace seekers in Israel must stop whining over the fact that the Jewish organizations there have turned right, and instead of that act - by taking the same action that those organizations implement so successfully. If every Israeli who agrees with the road map and wants it to be translated into practice were to write a letter or an e-mail to one Jew in the United States, a relative or a friend, explaining his position and making it clear that many other Israelis think the same way, a minor earthquake would undoubtedly be created in Jewish-American opinion. If every such Israeli were to write to two Jews, the result would be a genuine tectonic shift. And if he were to suggest that his two friends or relatives write to their Congressman - who knows, maybe that would completely undermine the despairing axiom that peace efforts are bad politics.