Robert Novak

But what about George W. Bush's advocacy of the roadmap? He surely had to embrace it to retain Britain in the Iraq war coalition and keep moderate Arab states friendly. The question is whether he will risk Jewish votes by pressing for Middle East peace.

Republican activists leave no doubt about their views. DeLay has called the roadmap "a confluence of deluded thinking between European elites," the State Department bureaucracy and American intellectuals. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an intimate adviser of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, called the roadmap a conspiracy by the State Department and foreign powers "to work against U.S. policies."

That outlook, if not the harsh rhetoric, is widely shared among the Republican Party's shrewdest political strategists. Haley Barbour, one of the six Republicans at The Club in Birmingham, commends Bush for advocating the roadmap. Barbour, however, does not want the president to follow Bill Clinton's example and press the Israelis and Palestinians toward a peace agreement. Such a hands-off attitude would amount to a death sentence for the roadmap.

Indeed, its vital signs have been weak anyway. Secretary of State Colin Powell was rebuffed on his recent visit to Israel when he sought Sharon's approval for the roadmap. Sharon accepted last Friday after receiving assurances from Bush, but it is no secret that the prime minister detests the very idea of a Palestinian state and sees Israel locked in a hundred years war.

That confronts George W. Bush with a classic presidential decision that may forge his place in history. Should he follow Colin Powell's advice that American leadership on creating a Palestinian state is essential for peace in the Middle East? Or, should he follow the path urged by his party's leaders to guarantee his re-election?

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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