Israel-US Policy Shifts….Foreign policy is an outgrowth of domestic policy. In a shift left from the recent past, Israel is now reaching out to liberal Jewish groups for support of Ariel Sharon?s Gaza disengagement plan opposed by some American evangelical and ultra conservative groups, the Forward?s Ori Nir reports.

Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Danny Ayalon, is slated to take part in a March 14 forum on Capitol Hill, hosted by Americans for Peace Now, a group that supports Israel’s dovish Peace Now movement and regularly criticizes Israeli settlement policies. The group historically has had little contact with representatives of Israel’s Likud-led governments.

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a leading Likud defender of the disengagement plan, has agreed to deliver in June the keynote address at the annual dinner of the Israel Policy Forum…founded during the 1990s to support the Labor Party’s peace moves. Olmert will be the first top Likud leader to deliver the keynote address at the organization’s annual dinner.

The scheduled appearances of Ayalon and Olmert are said to be part of an intense campaign recently launched by Israeli diplomats in the United States to rally American and Jewish public support for the disengagement plan and the resumption of Israeli contacts with the Palestinian Authority. The main goal, Israeli diplomats said, is to counteract the efforts of politically conservative Jews and evangelical Christians who oppose Israel’s plan to withdraw from Gaza, and dismantle four West Bank settlements, in July.

As Nir further reports, one American group that vehemently opposes Sharon?s Gaza pull-out plan (as well as US assistance to the Palestinians) is the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a group that has honored undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith in the past. Other prominent neoconservatives formerly tied with the administration have gone on the record in opposition to the disengagement plan. My point is, some of the significant U.S. opposition to Sharon?s Gaza pull-out plan is coming not only from far-right Christian evangelical groups, but from individuals and groups very closely associated with the Bush administration foreign policy brain trust. Interesting to see how this all shakes out. The neoconservative motto “peace through strength” faces a test: is it just code for unwavering opposition to the peace process at all costs? or will they ever see an opening?

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