By Matthew Engel in Washington, May 4, 2002
The most senior Republican in the House of Representatives has called for
Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank, which should be annexed in its
entirety by the state of Israel.
Dick Armey, majority leader in the House, shocked a primetime television
audience when he said in a chat-show interview, that East Jerusalem, the West
Bank and Gaza – all occupied by the Israeli army since the 1967 war – should be
considered a part of Israel proper. He was “content to have a Palestinian state”,
but argued that such an entity could be set up inside other Arab countries.
“There are many Arab nations that have many hundreds of thousands of
acres of land and soil and property and opportunity to create a Palestinian
state. I happen to believe the Palestinians should leave.”
Mr Armey later backed down slightly and said he did not believe “peaceful
Palestinian civilians should be forcibly expelled” but only those who supported
His original extremist comments underline the extent of President Bush’s
dilemma of plotting a balanced course.
On the one hand, Mr Bush is keen to get Middle East peace talks back
on track, hence this week’s plan, announced by the secretary of state Colin
Powell on Thursday night, to hold a peace conference this summer.
On the other, he is aware that if he adopts a stance seen as too close to
the Palestinians he risks alienating public and political sentiment which has
shifted significantly in favour of Israel.
Mr Armey’s views have been scarcely reported in America. The only mention
was a passing reference in the deepest recesses of yesterday’s New York
Times and Washington Post.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called Mr Armey’s views “beyond
belief”. Spokesman Jason Erb said that “even the most extreme Israelis are
reluctant to publicly advocate such an insane policy”. When Ari Fleischer, Mr
Bush’s spokesman, was asked for the president’s view on what appeared to be
an argument for ethnic cleansing, he changed the subject.
However, Mr Armey’s views were not far out of line with on Thursday night’s
debate in the House, which overwhelmingly passed a 920-word resolution
entirely in favour of Israel, save for a call to pursue peace and a reference to
the “humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people” – tacked on at the White
Both the House and the Senate voted for motions which started by
saying that “the US and Israel are now engaged in a common struggle against
“Let every terrorist know, the American people will never abandon
freedom, democracy or Israel,” Mr Armey’s deputy, Tom DeLay, said in the
debate. “All free people must recognise that Israel’s fight is our fight.”
The Senate resolution, promoted by Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running-mate
who is increasingly talked about as a possible Democratic candidate in 2004,
resolved to “stand in solidarity with Israel”.
Mr Fleischer said the president respected the right of Congress to pass
non-binding resolutions, but warned that he could not operate with “535
secretaries of state”.
Since his party lost control of the Senate, Mr Armey has become arguably
President Bush’s most-important ally on Capitol Hill.
Although Mr Armey retires after elections this year and is likely to be
succeeded by the arguably more extreme Mr DeLa, he is unlikely to spend his
retirement seeing the world: “I’ve been to Europe once,” he said, in 1998. “I
don’t have to go again.”