WASHINGTON – Like arsonists with a can of gasoline, ultra-right forces in the U.S. are pouring fuel on the raging war in the West Bank seeking to destroy any initiative aimed at halting the violence and opening the way for a “two state” solution, Israel and Palestine coexisting side by side.

The most conspicuous pyromaniac is House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who began his career as a cockroach and rat exterminator in Houston and acquired many of their habits. DeLay went to Fulton, Mo., April 3 to deliver a tirade modeled on Winston Churchill’s infamous 1949 “iron curtain” speech, the opening shot of the Cold War.

Oozing oily prose, DeLay told the crowd at Westminster College, “The time has come to drop the empty pretense that we can serve the region as a mere broker. Israel is resisting a campaign of death. The defense of freedom demands more from us than a value-neutral brokerage. It is time for us to stand squarely against the terrorist organizations which systematically attack Israel.”

DeLay heaped unctuous praise on Bush for “resisting the constant calls to force Israel back to the negotiating table where they will be forced to grant concessions to terrorists … So we should support Israel as they dismantle the Palestinian leadership. … Arafat and his authority have been an impediment to peace and a threat to the emergence of moderate Palestinian voices. … The free world must never negotiate with terrorists.”

DeLay laid out his program for the region: Arafat must go. The Arab states “must recognize Israel’s fundamental right to exist. The terrorism against Israel must stop.” But DeLay uttered not a word about the rights of the Palestinian people who have lived in Palestine as long as the Israelis.

This speech was a call for the ultra-right to mobilize a pressure campaign to block any move in the direction of peace by the Bush administration. Once an exterminator, always an exterminator.

It would be a mistake to think DeLay is alone. The ultra-right is filling the airwaves with apocalyptic calls for a modern-day crusade against Islam. The Rev. Pat Robertson recently featured on his Christian Broadcasting Network the fulminations of a former Muslim cleric, Ergun Caner, who has converted to Christianity and has written a book titled Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs. Caner’s main message is that “Islam is not a peaceful religion” and must therefore be neutralized with the full military might of the Pentagon.

Bush is also the target of sniping by extreme rightwing Zionists like William Kristol and former Bush-Reagan official William Bennett who have called Bush’s policies in the Middle East “amateur hour” and “Clintonite” in their misguided attempts to broker peace. Bush’s initial backing for Sharon reflected those pressures from the right.

Nevertheless, splits are opening up within the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill that all who are serious about peace must take full advantage of. On his way to the region, Secretary of State Colin Powell said an Israeli pullout and a ceasefire is not enough. “The political component of this process has to be brought forward much more quickly than we might have thought otherwise,” Powell said. “The Palestinian people have to see that there is a political process and not just a ceasefire and a security process.”

Powell announced that he has asked for a meeting with Arafat to push forward this process. It reflects an important shift from Vice President Dick Cheney’s arrogant refusal to meet the Palestinian leader only 10 days earlier. The Bush administration has been forced to take these first tentative steps toward a more realistic position first of all by the heroic resistance of the Palestinian people who have made clear they will not stop fighting until Israel ends the occupation and they have won their national independence.

The Bush administration also faces pressure from the United Nations. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “The whole world is demanding that Israel withdraw. … The longer this goes on, the more it erodes the moral and political position of Israel.”

This is an election year and voters should be asking lawmakers where they stand on the Middle East crisis. Do they agree with DeLay? Or will the House and Senate finally give real support to the “two state solution,” the only way to end the war and bring peace to the region? They could start by voting a cutoff of military and weapons deliveries to Israel such as the Apache helicopters and F-16 fighters that rain death on the Palestinian people.

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