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News Analysis: Bush State Dept. Appointments Could Signal Renewed Mideast Focus

The appointment of two officials with Middle East expertise to key roles in the State Department may be a signal that the Bush administration will focus more on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than had been expected.

The White House on Tuesday named Richard Haass as director of policy planning and Marc Grossman as undersecretary of political affairs. Haass will serve as a direct advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell on policy issues, while Grossman will oversee the regional bureaus in the State Department and serve in the department’s No. 3 position.

Haass was senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council in the administration of the elder President Bush. An adviser during the Persian Gulf War, Haass recently served as vice president and director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

At Brookings, Haass authored several books on sanctions, the use of military force and other international issues. In an article published after the Israeli-Palestinian summit last fall in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Haass advocated “concerted unilateralism,” calling for an agreement between the two sides without a formal pact signing.

In the article, Haass laid out terms for a settlement, including the declaration of a Palestinian state and the annexation to Israel of most Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Under this plan, the two sides would put off the more complex issues, such as control of Jerusalem.

“The result would not be peace or an end to the conflict or a signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House,” Haass wrote in December 2000. “Rather, it would be a de facto separation of the two sides reflecting a tacit arrangement to stabilize the situation. It would still require cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian officials, but it would not require either side’s leadership to explain to its citizens why it forfeited certain powerful symbols or jettisoned deeply held goals.”

Grossman currently serves as director general of the Foreign Service and is a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Grossman also held several positions in the Near East bureau and was an advisor to President Carter.

Grossman spoke last year to both the Middle East Forum, a think tank in Philadelphia, and a House of Representatives subcommittee on the relationship between Turkey and Israel.

“Turkey’s relations with Israel are flourishing,” Grossman told the Middle East Forum last March. “We support the closest possible ties between our two allies. This is a relationship aimed at no one, with the potential to benefit everyone.”

While both officials have Middle East backgrounds, political analysts note that Grossman, Haass and other officials whose appointments are imminent also have expertise in Europe.

Before the Clinton administration, the State Department had long been perceived as Arabist in its political thought, but the new appointments do ease some concerns in the Jewish community.

Both Grossman and Haass will be able to inject themselves into Middle East issues when the State Department tackles them, and neither holds one-sided views, said an official with a major Jewish organization who is familiar with both appointees.

Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, said it is logical that prominent international experts would have Middle East backgrounds, since the region is a very important part of the world politically.

“The Middle East offers an opportunity in a way that no other regions have to springboard people to national prominence,” Pipes said.

He said the new appointments make it more likely that the State Department will have a larger role in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, especially since the White House — which virtually oversaw U.S. involvement during the Clinton administration — is expected to be less involved.

But Israeli activists critical of recent U.S. policy said they are concerned that the two appointments — particularly that of Haass, who has been more vocal with his recommendations for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — signal a return to active American involvement in the peace process.

“If you are bringing in people for broader positions that have specialties in Israel, I’m concerned that Bush may not be fulfilling his promise of not pressing Israel to take positions it doesn’t want to take,” said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Responding to the election of Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister, President Bush said on Wednesday that he would reach out slowly to the parties in the region.

“We’re going to play the hand we’ve been dealt,” Bush said. “And we’re going to play it well, with one thing in mind: that we promote peace in the Middle East.”

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