US Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed on Tuesday the Bush Administration will not appoint a new Middle East peace envoy to replace Dennis Ross, signaling that America will play a less active role in the peace process than in the past. US President George W. Bush also plans to begin the "process" of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as promised in the recent campaign.
A State Department spokesperson said that the US still has a vested interest in the peace process, but will not be taking part in the peace talks. The office of the Middle East Coordinator - the body charged with overseeing the peace talks for the past seven years - has been effectively closed. Ross has stopped working and all peace process-related developments are being monitored by the department's Bureau of Near East Affairs headed by Assistant Secretary Edward Walker - a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed that the US was not taking part in the Taba talks but simply "getting readouts from both sides" in order to monitor what's going on, he said.
In a note concerning former President Bill Clinton, Palestinian negotiators in Taba issued a statement sharply criticizing US policy in the Middle East. The statement did not criticize Clinton directly, but claimed US mediation efforts over the past seven years were tainted by a clear pro-Israel bias.
It singled out Clinton's Mideast envoy, Dennis Ross, who has spent hundreds of hours shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and who also happens to be Jewish. Ross and other members of his team "have acknowledged having an emotional commitment to Israel and have said they cannot distinguish between their personal and professional involvement with it," the statement said.
It said that the Bush administration could contribute to Mideast peace efforts, "but only if it can learn from the mistakes and failures of the last seven years." The statement said the Palestinians have "become increasingly wary of US involvement" in the peace process because it is unwilling to force Israel to make the necessary concessions for peace.
Meanwhile, Bush has instructed his foreign affairs team to look into the possibility of relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the administrative mechanisms for doing so. However, no timetable has been set for the conclusion of this work or for implementation of such a decision.
In the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995, Congress ordered the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but allowed the President to defer the move every six months for reasons of national security. In his election campaign, Bush promised that the first thing he would do after he enters the White House would be to relocate the embassy.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.