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Declaration could hamper peace process

©Washington Post
April 26, 2002

WASHINGTON -- House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, is promoting a strongly worded declaration of congressional support for Israel over the objection of Bush administration officials, who contend it would further alienate Arab states crucial to the war on terrorism and the Middle East peace process.

The Washington Post reported that a White House official whom it did not name said the administration warned DeLay that he could hamper the U.S. effort to persuade Israel's Arab neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to help curb Palestinian violence.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans said the resolution would pass overwhelmingly if brought to a vote, barring a public statement by Bush that it would hurt the nation's foreign policy interests. Officials from both parties said they saw the issue as a test of the clout wielded by DeLay, who promised to push for the resolution in a speech this week to the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The dispute over the resolution has exposed an election year divergence in the interests of Bush, who needs to build Arab alliances, and House Republicans, who are eager to mollify conservatives who feel the White House has been too tough on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Bush called on Sharon three weeks ago to withdraw his troops from Palestinian territory "without delay." But the resolution says Israel's military operations in the West Bankrepresent "an effort to defend itself against the unspeakable horrors of ongoing terrorism."

The five-page "resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism" says the House "is gravely concerned that (Yasser) Arafat's actions are not those of a viable partner for peace." It "commends the president for his leadership in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

DeLay said he intended to pursue his resolution despite concern by some "individuals in the administration" that the vote could jeopardize diplomatic efforts.

"What's most important is to send a message to the world, to Europe and Arab countries, that this Congress, this House, stands squarely in support of Israel and its war on terrorism," DeLay said. "There should never, ever be negotiations with terrorists."

The measure is scheduled for a vote Tuesday, although DeLay's office said he likely will postpone the vote at the request of the White House.

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