- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel yesterday formally protested after British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Western nations had been more aggressive in enforcing U.N. resolutions concerning Iraq than those about Israel.

Israelis were already concerned that their interests might be sacrificed by the United States and Britain to ease Arab anger about the Iraq war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been pressing President Bush to move forward with a "road map" for Middle East peace that is making Israeli leaders nervous.

British Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles was called to the Foreign Ministry yesterday to receive the Israeli protest.

"The latest British statements are cause for concern and appalling and … are liable to damage the advancement of the diplomatic process," a ministry statement said.

While demanding that Security Council resolutions on Iraq must be implemented, Mr. Straw had said Tuesday that the West had been "rather quixotic" about implementing resolutions on Israel and the Palestinians.

To many Israelis, the remark was little more than an attempt to ease the fury in the Arab world about the war against Iraq.

But the newspaper Ha'aretz, typically critical of Israel's hard-line government, called Mr. Straw's remarks "contemptible."

An editorial said that from a legal standpoint, Israel, unlike Iraq, is not in violation of any Security Council decision and that the council has never ruled that it is.

The United States frequently uses its veto in the U.N. Security Council to block resolutions critical of Israel. But the General Assembly, where every nation has a vote and no nation has a veto, has often criticized Israel at the behest of Arab and other Muslim nations.

Mr. Blair, while avoiding rhetoric that could be perceived as anti-Israel, made it clear again this week that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the next item on the British and U.S. agendas after Iraq.

In a speech to Parliament, he said the two countries would address the Israeli-Palestinian dispute with the same determination they have shown in pursuing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also entered the fray, telling a newspaper columnist this week that Mr. Bush will push Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hard on a Middle East peace plan once the war in Iraq is over.

"He understands that the whole world is going to be looking to him to do something about the Middle East once Iraq has been dealt with," Mr. Powell told a columnist for The Washington Post.

Mr. Powell was asked who besides him in the Bush administration "favored a plan that would mean going to the mat with Sharon."

"The president," Mr. Powell replied. "I just left him 30 minutes ago, and we talked about it."

The Bush administration has said it will release its road map for Middle East peace as soon as newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has established his Cabinet.

The British are pressing Mr. Bush to expedite publication of the plan, which was drafted by the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations for resolution of the dispute.

It calls for an agreement in stages, with a Palestinian state set up in temporary borders by the end of this year and a permanent-status agreement by 2005.

Palestinian sources expressed doubt that the plan would be published before the Iraq war ends. Mr. Blair's remarks, said one senior Palestinian official, "are no more than polite utterances."

Israel reportedly is requesting about 100 changes in the plan.

Among the changes Israel is seeking are Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the complete dismantling of terrorist infrastructures.

Sharon aides said yesterday that the Israeli prime minister accepts the road map "as a basis for progress" but that much depends on Mr. Abbas' ability to curb Palestinian militancy.

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