Differing domestic agendas in the U.S. could be played out in the Middle East.
JAMES D. BESSER
s Palestinian leaders wran-
gle and the Bush adminis-
tration prepares to officially
publish the long-delayed
"road map" for creation of a
Palestinian state by 2005, nervous
Jewish leaders believe political factors
will keep Washington from pushing
the plan too hard.
One of those factors: the Republicans'
soaring hopes of winning over some
Jewish voters and campaign contribu-
tors in 2004. But political experts say
that may be wishful thinking.
In fact, some analysts say President
Geroge W. Bush may be primed for
some real political risk-
taking on Mideast mat- .
ters, now that his single-
minded focus on Iraq
seems to have paid off.
University of Virginia
political scientist Larry
Sabato agreed that
GOP strategists hope
Bush's strong support
for Israel will draw some Jewish voters
to the Republican side of the aisle.
"Having said that, I believe Bush will
roll the dice in (the Israeli-Palestinian)
policy area, as he has in so many oth-
ers," he said.
"He sees a chance to make history,
where so many other presidents have
A high-stakes gamble on Mideast
peacemaking, he said, could win the
president support from some
American Jews "if it works." Sabato
said that Bush's approach to the presi-
dency was shaped, in part, by his con-
troversial electoral victory in 2000.
"He is incredibly lucky to be in the
Oval Office, he may only get one term
and he knows it, and he plans to make
the most of the time he has there," he
said. "And that is very, very smart."
That attitude was evident in the presi-
dent's single-minded determination to
depose Saddam Hussein and in his
relentless push for a tax cut, despite
bipartisan resistance. And it could result
in a much more assertive approach to
Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking than
many Jewish observers expect.
Conservative Christians, who have
become the Sharon government's biggest
boosters in this country, could be a heav-
ier political counterweight to implemen-
tation of the road map. But there, too,
the president may have more freedom of
action than some Jewish leaders believe.
Ira Forman, executive director of the
National Jewish Democratic Council,
said, "I think Bush and his advisers
care a lot more about the Christian
right than they do about the Jewish
community." But even ardently pro-
Israel Evangelical leaders "care more
about domestic issues," he said.
"And Bush has been very good to
them on those issues, so it's unlikely they
will desert him over the road map."
John Green, a University of Akron
political scientist and expert on the
Christian right, said, "The Evangelicals
are central to Bush's re-election in a way
the Jews are not. This presents Bush
with some classic tradeoffs: does he risk
offending Evangelicals with the road map
in order to respond to [British Prime
Minister] Tony Blair, and then maintain
Evangelical support on other issues? Or
does he make the opposite calculation?
It's hard to say at this moment."
Green said the tip-off could come in
the coming weeks. "If Bush moves
sharply to the right on key social
issues, it may indicate he is preparing
for a controversial move in foreign
policy," he said. That could mean a
full-court press on the road map.
The real jokers in the road map deck
are Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.
This week, the two were still locked in
a bitter dispute over Abbas' role as the
first Palestinian prime minister.
The administration has made pub-
lishing the road map contingent on
the swearing-in of a prime minister
with real powers, not just a figurehead.
"If the Palestinians open the door;
Bush will have to walk through it,"
said Johns Hopkins University politi-
cal scientist Benjamin Ginsberg. "If
the Palestinians make a serious gesture,
it would be very difficult for the
administration not to follow up."
Politics will be a factor in the deci-
sion, but "Bush has been very clear
about what drives his agenda: it's con-
cern about terrorism."
If the new Palestinian leadership
makes a convincing case that it is
moving aggressively against terrorism,
it could spur strong administration
action on the road map, Ginsberg
said. "But given their history of missed
opportunities, that's a big 'if.'"
A top administration official who
recently plunged into the treacherous
waters of church-state controversy has
decided to appear before a leading
Jewish church-state group.
Education Secretary Rod Paige, who
expressed a strong preference for
Christian schools in a recent Baptist
Press interview, will appear before the
Anti-Defamation League's annual
Washington Conference next week.
Paige, sources say, will continue to
argue that his words
were taken out of con-
text, and that he was
speaking about public
versus religious colleges,
not elementary and sec-
Despite that claim,
ADL and other Jewish
groups have protested
his comments, which they said reflect a
pervasive bias toward parochial schools
within the administration.
More than 500 ADL delegates will
also hear from former Christian
Coalition director Ralph Reed, now a
Georgia GOP leader. Reed will speak
about the growing relationship between
pro-Israel groups and Evangelicals.
The church-state battle heated up a
few degrees with the recent introduc-
tion of the latest constitutional
amendment legalizing public school
prayer by Rep. Ernest Jim Istook, R-
Okla. In a broadly worded amend-
ment that one Jewish activist called
mega-Istook," the lawmaker is now
proposing to include protection for
the "under God" clause in the Pledge
of Allegiance and the public posting of
the Ten Commandments, as well as
"voluntary" prayer in public schools.
Groups like ADL will fight the
newest Istook amendment, although
few observers expect it will go any fur-
ther than his earlier efforts.
Of greater concern to ADL: the
upcoming House vote on the recently
passed Charity Aid, Recovery and
Empowerment (CARE) Act. The
Senate passed the bill without contro-
versial "charitable choice" provisions
intended to remove restrictions on gov-
ernment grants for religious charities.
But Jewish church-state groups worry
that the House, which passed a much
more sweeping charitable choice bill in
2001, could revive them. The ADL del-
egates will also oppose the charitable
choice provisions most observers expect
will be added to the reauthorization of
the 1996 welfare reform law.
Charitable choice provisions in that
law are being used by the Bush adminis-
tration to justify numerous executive
actions opening the door to government
grants to religious groups. Conservatives
want to expand those provisions when
the welfare law is reauthorized; church-
state groups want to pare them back.
Hate Crimes Bill
A hate crimes bill strongly supported
by the ADL and other Jewish groups
is doing what it's done for years: lan-
guishing in an indifferent Congress.
The renamed Local Law Enforcement
Enhancement Act, designed to strength-
en the federal government's authority to
investigate and prosecute hate crimes, is
in limbo because of strong Republican
opposition to another feature: the
expansion of existing hate crimes laws
to include crimes committed on the
basis of victims' gender, sexual orienta-
tion or disability.
Gay rights and civil rights groups
that had made the measure a priority
in the past are not doing so this year
— largely because the Senate, which
passed an earlier version of the bill as
part of a big defense department meas-
ure, is once again in Republican hands.
"Everybody still wants the bill to pass,
but there's an acknowledgement that
this year it's going to be even harder,"
said an official with a Jewish group.
"And there are new complications."
One of those complications: the insis-
tence by some gay rights groups that the
bill be changed to explicitly cover
crimes against transgendered people.
Backers of the bill say its broad lan-
guage would already cover the trans-
gendered, and that adding them as an
explicit category will just make it
harder to win over a handful of fence-
. Michael Lieberman, ADL's
Washington counsel, said there is "no
lack of commitment to the bill by civil
rights, gay and Jewish groups. But
there's also a reality check taking place
about the best way to get it done."
In today's environment, backers may
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