The Clinton administration’s Iran policy, never a model of clarity or consistency, had many Jewish leaders scratching their heads this week. Despite dogged U.S. efforts to encourage Iranian moderates, new information suggests the Tehran government has increased its support for terrorists opposed to the Mideast peace talks. And a recent U.S. decision on spare parts for airplanes may make it easier for Iranian suppliers to get material to them.
Pinball policies in response to Sharon-Arafat spat
James D. Besser
It was an almost impossible political challenge: This week Jewish leaders were trying to put a positive spin on increasingly panicky, inconsistent U.S. efforts to end an Israeli-Palestinian crisis that continues to spin out of control.
The pinball policies bounced from the harshest-ever condemnations of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to fierce new pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
On a trip intended to bolster support for a quick Israeli-Palestinian agreement, President George W. Bush this week reaffirmed that Israel cannot be expected to give up all settlement blocks - and that a Palestinian state must be "viable and contiguous."
Bush, who visited Yad Vashem and passed through an Israeli checkpoint en route to Ramallah, was "very balanced; he didn't come off as an advocate for either side," said Amb. Edward Walker, a former U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv..
Jewish leaders were scrambling this week to assess the potential impact of Thursday's assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the likelihood the nuclear-armed Islamic state would plunge even deeper into chaos.
The killing was another blow to Bush administration efforts to stabilize Pakistan and reinforce its shaky status as an ally in the war on terrorism. The assassination was also a setback to U.S. efforts to push President Pervez Musharraf toward democratic governance.
In the ambiguous aftermath of the Annapolis summit, a blizzard of contradictory Israeli pronouncements on settlement expansion could be an irritant in U.S.-Israel relations — especially the on-again-off-again plan to build new housing in the red flag Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem.
But few observers expect an all-out diplomatic blow-up despite the Bush administration’s new urgency about forging a peace agreement by the end of the new year.
Despite efforts by U.S. officials to tamp down expectations, next month’s Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., is looking more and more like a high-stakes roll of the dice by the Bush administration.
And if the gamble comes up empty, experts and activists across the political spectrum fear the results could include new Palestinian violence, a big boost for the terrorist group Hamas and even more disillusionment by a weary Israeli public.
In a move with deep historic resonance for the Jewish community, President George W. Bush has turned to a respected Jewish jurist to restore credibility to a controversy-damaged Justice Department. The nomination is winning praise from a range of Jewish leaders, though his positions on a range of issues of concern to Jewish groups, including church-state law and abortion, remain a mystery.