- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The Middle East's political divide was replayed closer to home yesterday as U.S. Jewish and Arab-American groups clashed over President Bush's call for the ouster of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Mr. Bush's blueprint for Middle East peace, which conditioned a Palestinian state on the appointment of new leaders "not compromised by terror," received a generally enthusiastic reception from American Jewish groups and from leading congressional Republicans.
American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen said, "The president's unmistakable call for the removal of Arafat as the head of the Palestinian Authority makes it clear that the time for overlooking Arafat's reliance on terrorism is over."
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, praised Mr. Bush's "strong moral leadership" for "acknowledging that the path to peace doesn't run through Arafat's compound."
But James J. Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Bush's plan was a "disaster" that would alienate Arab supporters in the region and undermine U.S. efforts to broker an end to the violence wracking the region.
"This is not diplomacy, this is ideology, and it won't work," Mr. Zogby said. "This is what the neo-conservatives in the Pentagon and the Republican religious right have wanted for years to delegitimize the Palestinian Authority and ultimately destroy it."
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, "Obviously, the president was under tremendous pressure from the pro-Israel lobby here and from certain elements in his own party. That's why the statement Monday came out sounding like the talking points for [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's government," Mr. Hooper said.
Democrats, for whom Jewish voters have long been a key electoral and fund-raising base, were far more divided.
None came to the defense of Mr. Arafat, but many, including some leading presidential hopefuls for 2004, wondered whether the administration planned to do enough to push the peace process forward.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said of Mr. Bush's plan: "I'm surprised there isn't more," calling the president's statement "extraordinarily lacking in depth."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and another likely contender for the 2004 Democratic nomination, criticized what he called a lack of follow-up by Mr. Bush to Monday's announcement, with only vague demands of Palestinian political reforms even as casualties mount on both sides.
"The fire is burning now," he said. "It needs to be doused."
Mr. Bush's speech comes amid considerable speculation about the domestic politics of the Middle East crisis. With Christian conservatives and neo-conservative strategists united in their strong support for Israel, Republican strategists have talked openly in recent days of boosting the party's support among Jewish voters, who play a key role in such swing states as Florida and Pennsylvania.
Mr. Bush won 19 percent of the Jewish vote against Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 race, and political analyst Jeffrey S. Helmreich said American Jewish voters are a "uniquely swayable bloc" in presidential elections based on the question of support for Israel.
Ronald Reagan, viewed as far more pro-Israel than President Carter, took 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980, while President George Bush, viewed by many as more hostile to Israel, received only 10 percent of the Jewish vote 12 years later against Bill Clinton.
The president also was criticized strongly by many in his own party for his April 4 speech on the Middle East, which did not call for Mr. Arafat's removal and balanced criticism of the Palestinian Authority with demands for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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