WASHINGTON (AP) The Bush administration intends to take Arab-Israeli diplomacy in a new direction, linking the intractable dispute over the Palestinians” future to other U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.
Even familiar terminology is being cast aside. In a move approved by Secretary of State Colin Powell, the phrase “peace process” is being jettisoned in favor of specific references.
“There is no official term to describe our efforts to achieve Middle East peace,” a State Department internal memorandum says.
The new direction shifts away from detailed and constant U.S. mediation, often involving the President, and away also from what Powell has suggested was undue concentration on one of a multitude of U.S. foreign policy problems.
“I am of a view you can”t just concentrate on one thing. There are just many things going on at the same time,” Powell said last week.
Asked about his priorities, Powell said: “I think, of course, we have to look at the Gulf and especially Iraq. Those things come to mind.”
Only two presidents immersed themselves in the devilish details of peacemaking: Jimmy Carter, in forging the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and Bill Clinton, in mediating the 1998 Wye Accords that called for Israeli withdrawals on the West Bank, and last year”s futile drive for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Other presidents relied on their secretaries of state, special mediators, the Near East bureau of the State Department and American ambassadors.
Three presidents, Gerald Ford, George Bush and Ronald Reagan, never visited Israel. Bush, however, launched through his Secretary of State James P. Baker III the semiautonomous “peace team” headed by Dennis Ross that gave high-profile attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Ross has ended his 12-year run, and the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday there was no decision on whether to replace him.
Clinton made peace in the Middle East his highest foreign policy priority. If Ross” post is not filled, it could be a clue that a settlement between Israel and the Arabs no longer is being accorded the pride of first place.
Bush yesterday pledged to work with Israel”s newly elected prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to promote peace in the Middle East. “We”re going to play the hand we”ve been dealt,” he said, “and we”re going to play it well.”
The United States will “give the Sharon government a chance to do what he said he was going to do,” Bush said.
Powell used telephone diplomacy, like his predecessor, Madeleine Albright, talking to Sharon on Tuesday and King Abdullah II of Jordan, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Amr Moussa of Egypt and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa of Syria.
“The message is basically that we”re at a delicate time, that the prime minister-elect will need to form a government, and that during this period we should avoid provocations, we should avoid counterprovocations, everyone should be exercising restraint and moderation,” Boucher said.
The spokesman said that “we need to work together and talk to our friends and allies in the region and talk to the new government once it”s formed about how we can proceed toward the search for peace.”
In giving the Arab-Israeli dispute a broader framework, the Bush administration will make the pitch that everyone in the region would benefit from a settlement, that peace would contribute to stability.
Saudi Arabia and other oil producers prize stability as essential to their economic well-being.
What the administration is bound to seek from the other leaders is support for sanctions on Iraq to contain President Saddam Hussein”s military programs and coaching the Palestinians to compromise with Israel.