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Ray Close:
Sent to me by Ilene P. Cohen*
*Executive Editor,_ World Politics_, journal of Princeton University's
Institute for International and Regional Studies.

From_ The Forward_   (old and respected Jewish liberal newspaper in New

*Top Bush Adviser Says Rice’s Push For Mideast Peace Is ‘Just Process’**
Nathan Guttman | Fri. May 11, 2007

*Washington* - As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presses Israelis
and Palestinians to meet a  new set of policy benchmarks, the White
House is reassuring Jewish groups and conservatives that the president
has no plans to pressure Jerusalem. Deputy National Security Advisor
Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that
the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel
being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.

Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources
said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would
prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast
gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done
during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps
needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on
the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting
peace in the Middle East.

According to one of the participants in the meeting of Jewish
Republicans, Abrams said that he does not believe that the United States
can make much progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. The United
States could only see success, Abrams added, on limited issues relating
to freedom of movement for Palestinians in the territories and efforts
to strengthen the presidential guard of Palestinian Authority leader
Mahmoud Abbas.

Abrams offered his skeptical view of the prospects for progress as the
State Department was launching its latest effort to push the process
forward. In general, according to Washington insiders, Rice and her
Middle East team are pushing an increasingly aggressive agenda on the
Israeli-Palestinian front, while the White House policy team, led by
Abrams, is pulling back, viewing any major breakthrough as unlikely.

In response to the initial version of this article, an NSC
spokesperson issued a statement on behalf of Abrams stating that the
White House supported Rice’s efforts. “Advancing toward peace between
Israelis and Palestinians and toward the President’s vision of two
states living side by side in peace and security is not only Secretary
Rice’s goal, it is a key goal of the President’s,” the NSC statement
said. “It is inaccurate to suggest that the White House and State
Department are at odds on this issue, for the entire Administration —
including Mr Abrams — is committed to pursuing it and the rest of the
President’s agenda. Moreover, Mr. Abrams’ reference to an ‘emergency
brake’ was in reply to a question about whether European and Arab
pressure could put Israel in a corner, and was intended to make clear
that this would not happen because ultimately the United States provides
an emergency brake. It had nothing to do with efforts by the United
States to push the process forward, under Secretary Rice’s direction.”

Last week, American diplomats presented the Israelis and Palestinians
with a document specifying benchmarks that both sides are required to
fulfill in the upcoming months.

Most demands on Israel have to do with issues of mobility and access —
lifting roadblocks, allowing truck convoys from Gaza to the West Bank
and opening the Karni crossing, Gaza’s main import and export entrance
point. The Palestinians, according to the document, are required to
deploy forces in order to stop the firing of rockets at Israeli towns
and to curb violence within the territories.

The presentation of the benchmarks is seen as a major move by the United
States and as another sign of Rice’s determination to push the stalled
peace process forward.

The Palestinian reaction to the document was mixed, with Hamas turning
it down and Fatah seeing the paper as a possible platform for
negotiations. Jerusalem, according to Israeli sources, is still studying
the proposal and will provide its formal answer to American diplomats on
the ground. Israeli sources stressed, however, that they view the
program as positive, mainly since it includes a demand that the
Palestinian Authority confront the rocket-launching issue.

Rice’s dramatic attempt to make both sides live up to their commitments,
however, now appears undermined by political developments on the ground.

The State Department announced Monday that Rice is postponing her
planned visit to the region, due to the political uncertainty in Israel.
“There’s obviously a lot of politics in Israel that they’re working
through at this point,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Rice, however, made clear that she intends to keep on working with
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on promoting the peace process.
“We’re going to continue to work toward the two-state solution because
one thing that we know is that the Israeli people overwhelmingly want to
get to a place where they have a neighbor who can contribute to their
security,” Rice said in an interview to the Al-Arabiya TV network.

The benchmarks carry even more urgency in light of a new report released
this week by the World Bank. The report stresses the economic
difficulties faced by the Palestinians because of a lack of free
movement and access, issues that Rice has frequently raised in Israel
and that are addressed in the benchmarks she established.

The World Bank report described in great detail the restrictions Israel
imposed on the Palestinians regarding use of roads, access to land and
freedom of movement. These restrictions are a result of building the
separation barrier, forbidding Palestinians from entering roads used by
Jewish settlers and closing areas adjacent to settlements.

“As long as large areas of the West Bank remain inaccessible for
economic purposes… and unpredictable movement remains the norm for the
vast majority of Palestinians, sustainable economic recovery will remain
elusive,” the report concluded.

Rice’s renewed drive to promote an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is
seen in Washington not only as a desire to calm America’s allies in
Europe and the Middle East but also as part of the new thinking within
the State Department, which views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an
obstacle that deters Arab countries from joining the United States in
its attempts to stabilize Iraq.

This view was recently reinforced by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of
Nebraska, who in a conversation with nationally syndicated columnist
Robert Novak accused Abrams of preventing the administration from having
a “coherent Middle East policy” which would engage Iran and Syria in an
attempt to stabilize Iraq. “I do know that there are a number of
Israelis who would like to engage Syria,” Hagel told Novak. “They have
said that Elliott Abrams keeps pushing them back.”

The columnist also said Hagel quoted foreign ministers, ambassadors and
former Americans officials as saying they believe Abrams “is making
policy in the Middle East.”

Israel, according to sources close to decision-makers in Jerusalem, also
sees Abrams as the leading policy figure in the administration on Middle
East issues, a status that has led Olmert to keep an open channel of
communications with Bush’s senior adviser.

According to the sources, Abrams is also a leading voice in trying to
convince American Jews to be more supportive of the war in Iraq.

At the same time, Abrams is said to hold a relatively moderate view when
it comes to dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat. In a recent White House
meeting with leaders of a major Jewish group, Abrams outlined what he
described as the disadvantages of taking military action against Iran.
Participants quoted Abrams as saying that accepting a nuclear Iran or
launching a military attack against the Islamic country would both be
“terrible options,” and that international diplomatic and economic
pressure is the only way to solve the problem.

Israeli officials also recalled the tough stand Abrams took against
Israel’s plans to build in the E1 corridor near Jerusalem, an area seen
as vital for the territorial contiguity of any future Palestinian state.

“I never sensed that he is committed to a ‘greater Israel’ idea,” said
an official in a Jewish organization who regularly meets with Abrams.
“He is simply very skeptical when it comes to the Palestinians.”

Like the Israelis, officials at Jewish organizations see Abrams as the
main contact point in the administration when it comes to Middle East
affairs. “He knows all the Washington representatives of the Jewish
groups and has good relations with them,” said one Jewish organizational

Another Jewish official, who described Abrams as a “pretty approachable
guy,” said that it is regular practice for the administration to “send
the [National Security Council] when they want to be nice to the Jewish
community and send the State Department when they want to please the world.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said
that Abrams’ availability to Jewish representatives depends on their
views of the administration. “Once we [the ZOA] started criticizing
Bush’s policy in the Middle East, he stopped taking my calls,” Klein
said. “Before he joined this administration, he agreed with me about
Oslo and about Arafat.” Fri. May 11, 2007

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