- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Republicans in Congress have been nearly unanimous in supporting Israel, but some say they fear that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's threat to annex part of the West Bank is jeopardizing peace in the Middle East.
"The Sharon plan would add fuel to the fire," said Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, who said he is a supporter of Israel. "I can't imagine it would be conducive to any settlement that has any likelihood of leading to peace."
Some also wonder whether Mr. Sharon's plan would undermine President Bush's already difficult task of preserving the role of the United States as an honest broker in the Middle East while remaining a staunch ally of Israel.
"Of course it makes it more difficult for the president and for the peace process," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who is a supporter of Israel.
"I'm hoping there are some aspects of the plan we're not aware of or some intentions to moderate it," added Mr. Tancredo, who serves on the House International Relations Committee.
Mr. Sharon's contingency plan, first reported in the London Sunday Telegraph and also published in The Washington Times, calls for annexing as much as half the land on the West Bank, where 2.1 million Palestinians hope to establish a state and 200,000 Israelis have erected settlements under Israeli military protection.
Israel has similarly threatened in the past to annex much of the West Bank if the Palestinians unilaterally declare independence when the interim peace accords set in 1993 Oslo expire May 4.
Many Republicans believe that Mr. Bush has done a good job of supporting Israel's right to defend itself without irreparably damaging U.S. relations with Arab nations in the region.
But some say the president, under intense pressure from some conservatives in his own party has tilted too far in Israel's favor.
"The president actually has ended up leaning too far toward Israel, even though I think he doesn't want to," Georgia Republican National Committee member Carolyn Meadows said.
Rank-and-file Jewish-American supporters of Israel don't agree that Mr. Bush has gone too far in supporting Israel's recent incursions into Palestinian territories. They tend to support Mr. Sharon but understand the difficulty the president faces, especially in light of the international hostility to Israel's recent actions.
"President Bush is in a very complex, awkward place," said Irv Shapiro of Chicago, who was attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee meeting in Washington this week.
"There are only two countries supporting Israel right now: Israel and America. And clearly he is faced with the dilemma of being a strong supporter of the only democracy in the Middle East while listening to his allies in Europe," Mr. Shapiro said.
Most Republicans in Congress share Mr. Shaprio's view that Israel's military actions against Palestinian towns on the West Bank are necessary to root out terrorist cells behind the recent wave of suicide bombings that have killed scores of Israeli civilians.
"There's no evidence that the Palestinian population or, more important, their leaders are interested in peace," Mr. Shapiro said.
However, some Republicans, such as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, are skeptical about both sides in the conflict.
"I condemn anyone who kills civilians, and I think Palestinians have been cowards," Mr. Rohrabacher said. "They go after the easy targets. But if you cling to the idea that Israel is always right and its agenda and security supercede all other issues, then you are not going to support the president, who is looking for a way to bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis instead of backing Israel 100 percent."
Some Republican officials also depart from the view held by Mr. Tancredo that Islamic and Arab terrorism against Western targets is motivated by a clash of cultures.
"The terrorists who attacked America and Israel are motivated by the Israeli policies toward Palestinians and not by a hatred of the West in general, and most Arabs in the region admire American culture," said Ron Schmidt, a Republican National Committee member from South Dakota. "To claim it's a cultural thing, a cultural hatred, is a cop out."

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