US Will Not Step in to the ME Affray – Unless it Goes Regional or Jordan is Threatened

Next Monday, May 21, the panel led by former senator George Mitchell in investigating the causes of the current Middle East crisis publishes its report, and the Bush administration is due to make its response. Until now, George W. Bush has said clearly he does not propose to involve his administration directly in the Palestinian-Israel showdown as did his predecessor, Bill Clinton. Various world statesmen, including Israeli politicians campaigning to revive the old diplomatic process, tried hard to tie up the Mitchell recommendations and the Egyptian-Jordanian plan into a parcel, whose acceptance by Washington would set it on course for involvement in the conflict. They all ran afoul of the incumbent’s resistance. Even the settlement freeze offered as bait by the Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres failed to tempt the Bush team.
The men in Washington, according to debkafile‘s US sources, stood against European and Arab blandishments to let the UN Security Council debate the Middle East crisis while considering the Palestinian demand for an international observer force. Arafat’s deputy, Abu Mazen, was received coolly when he arrived in Washington last week.
As to the proposed meeting in Paris this month between secretary of state Colin Powell and Yasser Arafat, the administration at first assented conditionally. The plan was scrapped after Friday’s Netanya bombing and after Arafat demonstratively unveiled his operational alliance with the radical Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hizballah. The PLO representative in Washington was informed Friday that State Department contacts to arrange a meeting had been discontinued.
This rebuff prompted the Palestinian information minister Yasser Abd Rabbo’s angry charge Saturday, May 19, that without coordination with and consent from Washington, Israel would never have dared carry out its air raid the night before.
The Bush administration was not impressed. They have the same intelligence data as the Israelis, proving that Arafat has reaffirmed his strategic decision to step up Palestinian aggression, including particularly brutal terrorist attacks, of which the Netanya bombing was only the start. Washington did not demur therefore when informed of Israel’s intention of scaling up its military pressure on the Palestinians.
The US administration will continue to stand aside, as long as Ariel Sharon keeps the administration abreast of his moves and sticks to his promise to refrain from establishing a military presence in Palestinian territory.
Monday, Washington will issue a general statement of praise for the Mitchell report while implying that its relevance is limited in the current circumstances. There will also be predictably derogatory comments on Israeli settlement. However, the Bush team is serious about keeping a weather eye out to make sure the Israel-Palestinian conflict remains contained and does not blow up into a regional war or threaten moderate Arab nations, notably Jordan. If it does, President Bush may have to reconsider.

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