- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The Bush administration is increasingly blaming the Palestinians alone for the Middle East violence adopting a pro-Israel stance that has sparked anti-Americanism in the Arab world.
"If you call asking people not to be violent placing the onus on them, then it is," a senior administration official said in an interview late last week.
After the Palestinian uprising began last year, the State Department tried to sound neutral, blaming both sides and calling for restraint by the Israelis as well as the Palestinians.
But public and private statements in recent weeks have gone further than ever before to put the blame for the violence squarely on the Palestinians. "We believe they can do more," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said in a weekend television interview.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a separate interview the same day that Israel had a right to retaliate in the face of violence from the Palestinians.
"I think that any time people are doing suicide bombings and blowing up your people at bus stops and in restaurants, you certainly cannot sit there and tolerate that," Mr. Rumsfeld said on "Fox News Sunday."
"You have an obligation to your people to take action to try to reduce that level of violence or to eliminate it, if humanly possible," he said.
A former U.S. diplomat, Richard W. Murphy, said the comments by the Bush administration's "two heavyweights" represented a "tilt" toward Israel.
"[President] Bush put the onus on the Palestinians to cease violence," said Mr. Murphy, a senior Middle East fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "So the U.S. political leadership is, yes, tilted.
"Their reading is that [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak made incredible peace offers that were turned down by a bloodthirsty [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat, who was unmasked in his real purpose the destruction of Israel."
Analyst David Makovsky said the Bush administration is tilting toward Israel because Mr. Arafat repeatedly has reneged on commitments to CIA Director George J. Tenet and to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
"Bush believes is there is not adherence to commitments he made to the United States, there's not a basis to move peace forward," said Mr. Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
When the Bush team first came into office, the Middle East problem seemed remote, he said. "But when you are the guy commitments are made to, it gets personal."
The tougher condemnations of Palestinian attacks on Israel threatens to harden anti-American feelings in the Arab world, where large majorities see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the single most important issue, according to a recent Zogby poll.
A group of Persian Gulf foreign ministers declared at a meeting on Saturday that they were "astonished" that their key ally, the United States, was condoning Israel's "racist aggressions" against Palestinians.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabian Gen. Salah Muhaya reportedly called off a visit to the United States to protest "U.S. policy on the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people."
Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, in May had turned down an invitation to the White House, also to protest Washington's "pro-Israel" policy.
Brookings Institution analyst Shibley Telhami said the Arab public has been provoked by graphic pictures and reports on new Arab satellite television stations that blame the violence on Israel and, increasingly, on the United States.
"On a recent lecture trip there, I had to counter calls against American interests," he said. "Governments in the Middle East will oppose anything that will jeopardize relations with the United States and not allow violence against the United States. But the real message to the United States is the extent to which public pressure will affect U.S. interests."
Former Assistant Secretary of State Robert H. Pelletreau said "there is rising anti-American feeling in the Middle East," but so far it has not led to anything more serious than a boycott of fast-food chains. The Saudis, for example, recently contracted U.S.-based Exxon Mobile Corp. as a partner in the development of gas fields "despite anti-American public feeling," he said.
However, some multinational firms are increasingly doing business in the Middle East through their European branches to minimize the U.S. connection.
Mr. Pelletreau, currently with a law firm whose clients conduct business in the Middle East, said he worries, for instance, that a bomb at a Citibank branch in the region would start an exodus of American investors.
The senior U.S. official said in the interview that there is "a real frustration in the Arab world that translates into frustration with the United States. We're aware of that, but we can't transform the relationship of Israel and the Palestinians even if we'd like to."
"There are things we are doing and can do to buttress our relations in the Arab world to weather this period," he said, explaining that the Bush administration is working on "security relations, the economic realm, assistance programs and just normal diplomacy."
The official said several people, both in the White House and the State Department, are shaping U.S. policy on the Middle East.
At State, the policy is in the hands of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs William Burns and Director of Policy Planning Richard Haass.
At the White House, the policy-makers are Mr. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Miss Rice, National Security Council Middle East Director Bruce Riedel and "probably others," the official said.


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