- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Egypt suspended some diplomatic contacts with Israel yesterday amid growing Muslim anger over the invasion of Palestinian cities and a growing threat to Israeli and U.S. relations with the Arab world.

In Jordan, demonstrators called for the desert kingdom to sever its ties with the Jewish state, and daily anti-Israeli protests continued throughout the Middle East.

"There's always a risk of overestimating organized demonstrations. But Arab leaders worry about whether it will get out of hand," said Edward P. Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt.

"Public opinion in their countries is becoming increasingly anti-American," said Mr. Djerejian, currently director of the Baker Center for Public Policy at Rice University.

Even before the latest wave of Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli retaliation, rage against Israel in the Arab world had forced the Bush administration to reconsider plans to strike Iraq as a new target in the war on terrorism.

"This is destroying relations with Arabs and Muslims we cannot do Iraq with an Arab world and a Muslim world that is moving toward mass support for terrorism," said Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution.

"What has emerged in the West Bank and Gaza is a mass movement of terrorism we have never before seen it in which every 18-year-old now looks to blow themselves up and become a martyr," Mr. Daalder said.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said yesterday on CNN that Israel was likely to continue fighting and ignore the United Nations so "any contact with them is useless."

Yesterday, amid calls from Arab street protests, Egypt took limited action but left the Israeli Embassy in Cairo open for business.

The United States called on Egypt and Israel to maintain the "closest possible contacts."

In the worst case, Israeli-Palestinian violence will undermine Arab help in fighting terrorism, affect U.S. trade and cut U.S. access to Middle East oil, which has spiked in price in recent days because of concern over the fighting, analysts said.

"No one will break relations with us," said Judith Kipper of the Center for International and Strategic Studies. But U.S. backing for Israel "raises questions of U.S. credibility, strategy, fairness and justice around the world."

"It makes it hard for us to do our normal diplomatic, strategic and economic business," she said.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell have said in recent days that the Israeli invasion is justified by the need to halt suicide bombings and other attacks that killed 123 Israeli civilians in March.

"In the wake of the suicide bombings and the attacks that took place in Israel, [Mr. Bush] understands and respects Israel's right to defend herself," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday.

Mrs. Kipper said that the United States must make dramatic moves to seize the initiative in resolving the conflict, which Arab leaders and Israel are incapable of solving.

She proposed giving retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, U.S. special representative who is in the Middle East, a mandate to tell Israelis and Palestinians "what you want them to do."

The United States should draw up a plan based on what both sides already have accepted and then give them a 48-hour time limit to comply or else face public U.S. condemnation, she said. "We're still the big guy."

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