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Clinton Passing Bush Hot Baton in Mideast

Monday, August 27, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

The renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington on Tuesday comes just as US President-elect George Bush and his growing list of apointees arrive in town to pick up the scrambled pieces of American diplomacy in the Middle East left by the Clinton Administration.

Although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and, by some accounts, PLO chief Yasser Arafat want to conclude another peace agreement before US President Bill Clinton leaves office on January 20, a leading figure of the incoming Bush team stated the obvious on Sunday: Clinton has made a mess of things.

In a TV interview, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney voiced the incoming administration's "concerns that the way the Clinton administration operated in the [last] year or so in the Middle East has made it more difficult to reach a settlement." He singled out for criticism the decision to put the future of Jerusalem, one of the most intractable issues under negotiation, at the centre of the failed summit at Camp David last July. He made it clear that the Bush presidency had its own ideas about how to "regenerate" the peace process, which he said had now broken down.

The comments may undermine the confidence of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators that Clinton's last-ditch effort to broker a deal has Bush's support. The chances for their success are already low, even though both sides have an interest in reaching an agreement before Clinton steps down. Barak is eager to strike a deal that he can wave in front of Israeli voters in an upcoming election for prime minister. And Arafat is anxious to know whether the election heat and eleven weeks of Palestinian violence have softened up Barak any.

And of course, Clinton has his own incentive, as the history books will read - as of now - that he worked hard for eight years but left the region in flames. Although recent press reports claimed Bush was giving Clinton the go ahead to see what he could accomplish in his twilight hours in office, that green light may now have switched bright yellow on the way to red.

In recent days, Barak has spoken with both Bush and his designated Secretary of State, popular military figure Gen. Colin Powell. Barak and Powell are said to be friends from the Gulf War. Most analysts say it will take a while for the Bush team to forge a coherent Mideast policy, and that Bush likely will let Powell take the lead.

Ever since the disputed US presidential election was resolved last week, Bush, Powell and Condoleezza Rice, nominated to serve as national security adviser in the White House, have all made comments indicating they plan to maintain a "balanced" foreign policy in the Middle East. When announcing Powell's nomination on Saturday, Bush said: "We will defend America's interest in the Persian Gulf and advance peace in the Middle East, based, as any lasting peace must be, on a secure Israel."

Powell then assured "it is absolutely a given" the new administration will make the regional peace process a top priority. He stated that Israel's needs for security should be balanced with Palestinian aspirations. The new approach "will be based on the principle that we must always ensure that Israel lives in freedom and in security and peace, but at the same time we have to do everything we can to deal with the aspirations of the Palestinians and the other nations in the region who have an interest in this," explained Powell. "So I think America will continue to be a friend to all sides."

Powell said he would be closely monitoring the new round of high-level peace talks, but promised if a peace agreement remained elusive when a Bush administration takes office, "America will continue to put forward ideas [and] remain engaged until we can find a solution."

Powell, who grew up in a heavily Jewish-populated neighborhood in New York City, has a surprising basic command of Yiddish. While of Jamaican origin, he has one Jewish ancestor on his father's side.

Although most analysts concur it is too early to know where Bush is headed in dealing with the Middle East, it is likely to include a tough approach to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein- the defiant nemesis of his father.

Many Israelis and pro-Israel supporters in the US were concerned the new foreign policy contingent taking shape might be dominated by the "Baker Boys," associates of former secretary of state James Baker, who served under the elder President George Bush. Baker and other former officials like Brent Scowcroft could still influence Bush's Middle East policy through their business connections to Arab oil. Although kept in the background during the campaign, the re-appearance of Baker as head of the Bush observer/legal team in the crucial Florida recount battle has increased those apprehensions.

In a final note on Clinton, his promised funding to Israel, Egypt and Jordan failed to make it through the lame-duck United States Congress before it adjourned on Friday. The Congress denied Clinton's request for $750 million in supplemental aid for the Middle East, including $450 million for Israel, most to compensate for the IDF's withdrawal from south Lebanon.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Clinton Passing Bush Hot Baton in Mideast