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William Pfaff: American Jews force Sharon's hand


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William Pfaff: American Jews force Sharon's hand

William Pfaff IHT

Thursday, May 29, 2003

The road map II

PARIS There suddenly seems hope that the "road map" to Middle East peace might succeed. Until now, it has been hard to take U.S. endorsement of the plan as more than a cynical concession to allied and international opinion, meant to disarm opposition to the war in Iraq and later be forgotten.

The Sharon government has always opposed an independent Palestinian state, and the Bush administration has seemed to take its lead on Middle East policy from the Israeli right. Now President George W. Bush is backing the road map and has brushed aside Israeli objections with a promise that the United States will look after Israel's security.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in turn has forced his cabinet to say yes to the plan, and to accept the principle of Palestinian national independence. Moreover, Sharon has shocked his party and country by using forbidden words. He told members of his Likud party Monday that Israel is "occupying" Palestine, and that this can't go on.

This is an enormous change for a man who throughout his political life has supported colonization of the Palestinian territories. His government includes men who want to expel the Palestinians from their homes and lands into neighboring countries so as to annex those territories.

What happened?

There are several parts to the answer, but the most dramatic is that major figures in the American Jewish community want to go where the road map leads.

The New York Observer reports that Edgar Bronfman of the World Jewish Congress and Larry Zicklin of the New York Jewish Federation, together with 14 other leaders of the traditionally united American Jewish community, have sent a letter to U.S. congressional leaders endorsing the road map.

Philip Weiss, author of the news report, quotes one person involved with the letter as saying "we could have gotten 200,000 signatures." Another said this shatters the notion, generally held until now, that the whole American Jewish community would try to block the road map. "No one can question the bona fides of the people who signed."

The letter tells Congress that the road map offers a chance "to escape the bloody status quo," implicitly acknowledging that Israel is trapped in a cycle of violence. This itself breaks with the official Israeli view that the Palestinians alone are responsible for the violence.

"The extremists have been driving this process for two and a half years," a signer says. "I accept the fact that Israeli policies have probably reduced the level of successful terrorist actions. But there's no future in that. We can't sustain that; it's not a solution."

The crucial message to American politicians is that if they support the road map, important Jewish leaders will back them.

There are other reasons why Prime Minister Sharon has changed position. One is that the current aggressive and oppressive occupation, with its repeated military forays into Palestinian communities, is going nowhere.

The second is that Israeli public opinion knows that policy has to change. According to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the road map is backed by 56 percent of Israeli opinion, with 34 percent opposed. To many, this looks like the last chance for peace.

The crucial factor, however, is that an important part of the American Jewish community has decided that enough is enough. There are still plenty of obstacles to the road map, and its enemies have yet to reorganize. But what the Jewish leaders in America have done just might be enough to tip the balance and bring peace, at last, to Palestinians and Israelis.

Tribune Media Services International

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