- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

President Bush expressed optimism yesterday about a new push for a final peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but the administration finds itself under increasing political pressure to limit the role of America’s Quartet partners in the negotiations.”Of course we are going to make progress,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House as he met with Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the emir of Qatar, in the Oval Office. The president cited moves by new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to curtail terrorism and reform the Palestinian political authority.Secretary of State Colin L. Powell leaves tonight for meetings with Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the “road map” to a peace deal prepared by the United States and its three Quartet partners — the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.But large pro-Israel majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives have signed a letter urging Mr. Bush to take a tough line in demanding more Palestinian political and security reforms and a complete end to terrorist attacks on Israel, saying that only the United States has the stature and clout to make a deal stick.”The United States has developed a level of credibility and trust with all parties in the region, which no other country shares,” said the April 30 letter, which was signed by 321 representatives and 88 senators.Without mentioning the other Quartet members by name, the letter continues: “We are concerned that certain nations or groups, if given a meaningful role in monitoring progress made on the ground, might only lessen the chances of moving forward on a realistic path towards peace.”The much-touted road map outlines a three-stage series of steps by both sides designed to ensure Israel’s security while creating a Palestinian state with defined borders by 2005.But much of the early jockeying has been over the roles of the four Quartet partners in monitoring and enforcing the steps to be taken by both sides. A codicil to the agreement, first reported by The Washington Post, reserves a key oversight post in the accord for an American representative.Many supporters of Israel in Congress and among President Bush’s conservative base share Israel’s deep suspicions of the United Nations and leading European powers, whom they consider too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and to longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.The suspicions have been heightened by trans-Atlantic tensions over the war in Iraq, which was opposed by many in the EU and the United Nations.In a recent stinging attack on the State Department, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted there would be “a deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the president’s policies procedurally by ensuring that they will be watered down and distorted by the other three members” of the Quartet.The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a strongly pro-Israel lobby, made support for the congressional letter one of its two top priorities during a membership lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill last month.AIPAC spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar said the group in particular supported the letter’s contention that Israel can only be expected to “respond with concrete actions” when the Palestinian leadership under the new prime minister cracks down on terrorism.”The issue at hand is really security,” she said. “History has shown that when Israel has a real partner for peace, Israel will reciprocate.”But Mr. Bush also faces some diplomatic pressures from allies not to sideline other members of the Quartet.British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the administration’s closest ally in the sharp international debate over Iraq, has pressed the president hard for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing it is essential to ease Arab world hostility in the wake of the Iraq war.And European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana noted that the EU, deeply divided over Iraq, is far more unified on the need for a Middle East peace deal.”The road map does not belong to Country A or Country B,” said Mr. Solana on a visit to New York this week. “The road map is the product of a coalition.”

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