WASHINGTON (Sep. 9)
Could President Bush’s call for greater foreign involvement in rebuilding Iraq spur a change in U.S. policy toward Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts?
It depends on whom you ask.
Bush is seeking U.N. sanction for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq as a means of attracting foreign troops and money to help with the enormous cost of rebuilding the country.
That’s an about-face from the administration’s earlier go-it-almost-alone policy, which was welcomed by Israelis and Jewish groups for keeping out European, Arab and Muslim views that are more sympathetic to the Palestinians.
There had been concern in the lead up to this war of a repeat of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which was followed by intense pressure on Israel from Bush’s father.
This time around, several Middle East analysts and members of Congress say, dealing with the Iraq situation leaves the administration hardly any time to establish new policies in the Mideast.
A U.S. State Department official said the new quest for foreign involvement is viewed by the administration as separate from the “road map,” Bush’s plan to end Palestinian terrorism against Israelis and establish a Palestinian state within three years.
At the same time, the official said, the administration would continue to pursue the road map as the best path to peace.
“Israel’s war on terror is the same and central to the U.S. war on global terror,” Roy said. “If we can get other countries involved in troops or financially in Iraq, that’s great, but we don’t believe there would have to be concessions” from the Israelis.
But the Palestinians are thinking — and hoping — differently.
Ahmed Karia, the Palestinian Authority prime minister-designate, made it clear “that international legitimacy, which is very important to what the United States is doing in Iraq, would be enormously related to what is happening in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” according to Stephen P. Cohen, a Middle East analyst who met with Karia on Monday.
Cohen, national scholar for the Israeli Policy Forum, an organization that promotes peace policies in the region, said he agreed with that assessment.
The Bush administration and Israel primarily blame the Palestinians for the collapse of the peace process because of their failure to contain terrorism.
European leaders have signed on to that view, agreeing this week to classify the political wing of Hamas as terrorist.
But they may expect a quid pro quo from Bush through greater pressure on Israel.
European and Arab leaders want Israel to freeze settlements, lift restrictions on Palestinian travel and stop targeting terrorist leaders for deadly strikes — all elements of the road map.
But some analysts think Bush can’t focus the same level of attention on both the road map and Iraq.
Bush is less worried about the road map because its failure can be attributed to the Palestinians and Israel, said Gal Luft, an Israeli colonel who now heads the U.S.-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
In contrast, the U.S. stake in Iraq is considerably higher.
“Iraq is about American prestige,” Luft said. “If America does not foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians, nothing happens to American prestige. If America fails in Iraq, American prestige is in danger — it’s much more critical.”
Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the United States was overextended and was much likelier to expend its limited resources on Iraq.
“The same people who do Iraq and Afghanistan do Arab-Israeli, and there are only so many hours in the day,” she said.
Still, some in Congress said Israel ultimately will have to face some changes.
“The stakes here are very high, not just for Iraq, but for the region,” said Norm Kurz. “It’s not just that if Iraq is left in the lurch it becomes a failed state and a haven for terrorists, but U.S. credibility in the region takes a hit.
“It’s not in Israel’s interests for the region to become further destabilized and for the U.S. to become a weakened player,” he said.
Indeed, there were signs over the weekend that Bush’s patience with certain Israeli policies is ebbing. The president’s top foreign-policy officials went on television to reiterate their opposition to targeted killings and warn of the consequences of expelling P.A. President Yasser Arafat.
“To kill one Hamas leader but wound nine children or 10 children in the course of this, who will grow up to become Hamas leaders or Hamas killers later, they have to consider the long-term consequences of this policy,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told ABC’s “This Week.”
Palestinians said they saw a link between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Iraq, as well as the need for the United States to accommodate Arab views.
“Iraq is related, definitely,” Ghassan el Khatib, the Palestinian labor minister, told JTA in a telephone interview from the West Bank. “The increasing sensitivity in Washington to the regional requirements may be positive to the peace process.”