Bush Blinks as 'Bibi' Blitzes

MONEY talks in the halls of Washington. Nothing new or nice about that.

But when big dollars for campaign donations overly influence a shift in US foreign policy – and especially its war on Al Qaeda – that kind of buck needs to stop, here and now.

The power of money to affect politicians was in full glory yesterday on the steps of the Capitol. Thousands rallied in support of Israel's defiance of President Bush's call for Israeli troops to pull out of the West Bank. They were supported by many senators and congressmen who have taken millions of dollars from the conservative, powerful pro-Israel lobby, which organized the rally.

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates the lobby gave as much as $6.5 million to candidates for the 2000 elections. The lobby also has a strong track record of defeating candidates who oppose its stands.

With the lobby's coaching, Congress has heavily pressed the White House over the past week to drop its demand for withdrawal, and to "let no light" shine between the US strategy on terrorism and Israel's strategy against Palestinian suicide bombers.

President Bush made that demand strongly on April 4 in a well-honed statement in the Rose Garden. He laid down clear markers on his Mideast policy, and he's tied it to the US war.

He pressed Israel to make political concessions, such as ending Jewish settlement "activity" on the West Bank.

His administration fears that Israel's often-brutal military occupation of Palestinian land will inflame Arab opinion, incite more attacks against the US, and hinder a US attempt to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

So far, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has defied Mr. Bush. Many Palestinian cities remain occupied. And Mr. Sharon sent Israel's most effective public relations agent, former prime minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, to the US for a week of heavy lobbying. Mr. Netanyahu even had a private meeting with a large group of senators.

And the result?

Bush blinked.

He hasn't revived his demand. With Republican power in Congress up for grabs in the November elections, he's bowed to the conservative pro-Israeli lobby. On Sunday, his national security adviser meekly argued that Israel cannot solve its problem by military means alone.

Americans have every right to support even Israel's most hard-line actions, and the US should, of course, help it stop the bombings.

But when big campaign contributions distort America's vital national security interests, then a president erodes his credibility as a war leader.

Israel needs to make peace with the Palestinians, and quickly, while the US makes war with Al Qaeda.

Money should not distort that key difference.

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