Leaders Must Speak Truth To Power, Without Delay

By Theodore Mann

Published September 12, 2003, issue of September 12, 2003.
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House Majority Leader Tom DeLay undoubtedly wants to help Israel. Presumably he will say so when he visits New York next week and meets with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. His trip comes at a critical time, in the wake of this week’s terror attacks and with the American-sponsored road map to Middle East peace under serious threat. What the United States does in the coming weeks — including what DeLay, as the most influential Republican in Congress, does to influence the administration — will have a major impact on Israel’s future.

Some American Jews undoubtedly salute the majority leader for recent statements that placed him in the same camp as extremist Israelis who, perhaps feeling emboldened by the renewal of Hamas terrorism and the downfall of Abu Mazen, will accept no reasonable compromise with the Palestinians. But I hope the moderate leaders of our community, who support the road map and thus represent the views of most American Jews, will urge him to reconsider his positions.

DeLay inadvertantly did more harm than good in July by trying to erect obstacles to the Bush administration’s fragile peace plan, which he has called a “road map to disaster.” It may be hoped that the media furor caused by his summer trip to Israel has made him think twice about repeating statements like “I can’t imagine the president supporting a state of terrorism, a sovereign state of terrorists.” The president, of course, supports no such thing. In fact, the administration sees its diplomatic effort to achieve a Palestinian state as a critical component of the war against terrorism. DeLay’s statement implies that a Palestinian state of any kind is a non-starter.

And I hope he now understands that, when he told the Israeli Knesset “there is no middle ground, no moderate position worth taking,” he provided support for an idea that is more dangerous to Israel than any of the risks inherent in the road map: the one-state solution.

If he has not backed away from these positions, community leaders have an opportunity and a responsibility to explain why he should. They should start by describing an alarming trend: growing support for the premise that Israel should annex the territories and either forcibly expel the Palestinians or give them second-class citizenship. This notion, which is endorsed by far-right Israeli and American Jews, is also supported by so-called “Christian Zionists,” with whom DeLay publicly associates himself.

DeLay has not, to my knowledge, publicly endorsed Israel’s permanent annexation of the territories. But his attempts to sidetrack American diplomacy, his warnings against Israel giving up land and his unwillingness to criticize the extremist positions of his hard-line evangelical allies have the same effect as embracing the goal of one “Greater Israel” between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Time is running out on the two-state solution that President Bush has made the center of his approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is a growing, gnawing sense that the two-state idea will not be viable unless real progress toward a deal is made soon. That is because of two, clashing demographic trends that are aided and abetted by those who speak out against compromise.

Arabs will outnumber Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean within two decades, experts say. This trend, and the untenable choices it will impose on Israel, is painfully familiar to those of us who are concerned about the Jewish state’s future. Perhaps DeLay and his advisors need to be reminded that if the journey to two states is not taken soon, Israel will either lose its Jewish majority, cease to be a democracy or simply expel the Arabs and cause an already volatile region to explode.

This prognosis is exacerbated by the more than 200,000 Jewish settlers who now live in the West Bank and Gaza, and who are given financial support by Christian Zionists. Continued expansion of settlements may soon make it virtually impossible to delineate the borders of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state that is more than a collection of isolated cantons — something the Palestinians will hardly accept. That recipe for hopelessness and unending violence is what some settlers and their allies are trying to cook up, because they are unwilling to settle for anything less than virtually all of the West Bank.

It is, of course, not only Jewish and Christian fringe groups that favor one state. Palestinian radicals — and an increasing number of Palestinian intellectuals — also back their own idea of one state. But in their vision it is the Palestinians who would be the majority, if not the only, inhabitants of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

I do not believe that DeLay, one of the most powerful political leaders in the country, favors any of these disastrous outcomes. But this is the kind of future he will help to foist on the region if he continues to ally himself with those who speak out against the Bush administration’s diplomatic efforts. The end of the two-state option in the minds of both Israelis and Palestinians would doom them, and the world, to conflict and turmoil for generations.

I hope that, while thanking him for his ardent support of the Jewish state, American Jewish leaders will tell DeLay he will help Israel by taking a new, moderate and more temperate tack.

Theodore Mann is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and former chairman of the executive committee of Israel Policy Forum.

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