by Sharon Slavin [USA TODAY]
WASHINGTON - House Majority Whip Tom DeLay suggested Tuesday that Israel should not withdraw from territory captured in the 1967 war, and he equaled Israel's struggle against Palestinians with the U.S. war on terrorism.

DeLay's remarks were the latest example of unflinching support for Israel among many U.S. conservative Christians.  The Texas Republican got a half-dozen standing ovations from a Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the chief pro-Israel lobbying group.

An evangelical Christian, DeLay told a Texas audience earlier this month that Christianity offers the "only viable, reasonable,  definitive answer" to life's key questions.

In his speech Tuesday, DeLay called Israel "the lone fountain of liberty" in the Middle East and said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's administration is "nothing more than a holding company for terrorist subsidiaries."

DeLay also suggested that Israel should not return territory despite the Bush administration's call for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

He pointedly changed the phrase "West Bank" in the text of his speech to "Judea and Samaria," terms used by those who say these  biblical Jewish territories should remain part of the modern Jewish state.  "I've toured Judea and Samaria," he said, "and stood on the Golan Heights (captured from Syria in 1967).  I didn't see occupied territory.  I saw Israel."

DeLay's address to the conference and the warm reception he received underlined an alliance between some Israel supporters and conservative U.S. Christians that began in the 1980's and has become much stronger under the Bush administration.

"We welcome support from every segment of American society," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Confer-ence of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Support for Israel "has become a bipartisan issue, even a non-partisan issue, particularly now that Israel is facing tremendous difficulties,"  AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr said.  But some advocates of a negotiated end to the conflict say efforts to equate the Israeli-Palestinian struggle with the U.S. war on al-Qaeda terrorists hurt U.S. credibility in the Arab world and make it harder to end the violence.

"This could make it impossible for the United States to play a diplomatic role," warned M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum, which promotes an active U.S. role in negotiating Middle East peace.

The Bush administration's recent statements and actions toward the region have, at times, appeared contradictory.  On April 4, President Bush called for Israel to end incursions into Palestinian areas that followed suicide bombings against Israelis.  Last week,
after Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to achieve an Israeli withdrawal, Bush praised Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as
":A man of peace."

Hussein Ibish spokesman for the American Arab anti-discrimination committee, said supporters of Israel have made a "faustian bargain" they will come to regret.  "The goal of Christian fundamentalists is Armageddon, not a secure Israel living in peace." 

Gary Bauer, a former Presidential candidate who heads a conservative Washington think tank, said the alliance is a natural one.

"In many ways, we are in a crash of civilizations, and Israel is the only democratic in the region," Bauer said.
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