WASHINGTON — Israeli leaders fear that increasing international efforts to link Iraq’s troubles with Israel’s will lead to American pressure on Jerusalem for concessions.
Fueling these fears is the Bush administration’s determination to stand by the United Nations special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, even after he partially blamed American support of Israeli policies for the failure to stabilize Iraq. Both Israel and American Jewish groups rushed to condemn and discredit Brahimi following his remarks last week, but U.S. officials are standing by the U.N. envoy that President Bush has charged with “figuring out the nature of the entity” that will assume power in Iraq on June 30.
Testifying Tuesday before Congress, John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Bush’s nominee to become America’s ambassador to Iraq, said that he had “no doubt” that “Lakhdar Brahimi is the man for the job.”
While Jewish communal leaders were working to rebut Brahimi’s remarks connecting Israel and Iraq, a group of more than 50 former British diplomats were emphasizing the connection, as they took aim at Bush’s top European ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The former diplomats blasted Blair for supporting American policies in Iraq and Israel.
The flap over Brahimi and the protest in Britain come as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is set to meet next week with his counterparts in the so-called diplomatic “Quartet” of America, Russia, the U.N. and the European Union. Powell’s plan is to discuss ways of implementing Sharon’s unilateral plan to disengage from Gaza, withdraw Israeli military forces from areas in the West Bank and uproot four West Bank settlements.
E.U. foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg Monday, officially called “on both sides to resume negotiations on the peace process without further delay.” At next week’s quartet meeting, the Europeans plan to outline several conditions on the peace process in exchange for supporting Sharon’s plan, an E.U. diplomat who spoke to the Forward said. Asked if E.U. officials think they are in a good bargaining position because of America’s need for support in Iraq, the diplomat replied: “Yes, we do see the U.S. looking for international support in the U.N. process for Iraq — sure.”
Israel and its backers in Washington are concerned that the need to win support from U.N. and E.U. leaders on Iraq will cause the White House to give in to their demands regarding the peace process. In particular, Israel supporters say, they fear that in an effort to stabilize Iraq, Bush will force Sharon to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, despite its failure to fight terrorism and adopt meaningful political reforms.
“Jewish groups were concerned with the Israel-Iraq linkage from the beginning but we were able to stop it,” said the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman. But, he added, “now it has resurfaced in an uglier way with Brahimi and the letter from the British ambassadors.”
This “linkage” is unlikely to come apart any time soon, argued former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, in an opinion essay published Sunday in the Washington Post.
“The president’s need to spread the burden of responsibility in Gaza and Iraq at the same time renders him vulnerable to the demands of his putative partners in Palestinian state-building,” wrote Indyk, a top Middle East adviser in the Clinton administration. He argued that “these chickens will come to roost in early May,” when America’s quartet partners “seek their own letter of support of U.S. assurance,” and, next, when King Abdullah of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak start making demands.
Indyk noted that similar pressure — from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2001 and Blair on the eve of the Iraq war in 2003 — forced Bush to dive head first into the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process. Each time, the president stepped up the push for Palestinian statehood.
Now, E.U. officials are set to present Powell with a long list of demands at the quartet meeting next week. According to the E.U. diplomat who spoke to the Forward, European representatives plan to demand a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, plus assurances that Israel will not return to Gaza, the 7,500 Jewish settlers evacuated from Gaza will not be resettled in the West Bank, the process of handing over the Jewish settlements in Gaza will be “well planned and managed,” and, “above all,” the quartet-backed “road map” peace plan will be “maintained as the road to a two-state solution, negotiated by the parties.”
“Sharon is paying lip service to the road map,” the E.U. diplomat said. The challenge, he added, is to require “meaningful and real” adherence to the quartet-backed plan.
Administration sources said that while the White House is determined to utilize the services of Brahimi, and has no intention of withdrawing hs support of Sharon’s plan, it is considering ways of calming Arab wrath. In an attempt to gain a modicum of support in Iraq, administration sources said, the White House is considering ways to “balance” President Bush’s assurances to Sharon regarding West Bank settlements and Palestinian refugees.
One idea the administration is considering, the sources said, is a letter of assurances to the Palestinians, to be delivered through Jordan, when Jordan’s King Abdullah visits Washington next week. The administration is also trying to influence Arab satellite television stations to end their continuing comparison between Israeli and American occupation.
Brahimi has thrust the question of whether the Bush administration has done enough to push the road map through into the spotlight, by bluntly asserted that America has given Israel carte blanche in the territories, and therefore complicating his mission in Iraq. Brahimi told reporters in Paris last week that “the policy of Israel is a poison in the region, and that is the feeling of everyone in the region and beyond.”
Elaborating on his criticism, Brahimi told ABC News Sunday: “What I hear is that these Americans who are occupying us are the Americans who are giving blanket support to Israel to do whatever they like.” Asked how he responds to such Iraqi sentiments, Brahimi said, “That is my problem. I have no answer to their questions about the situation in the Middle East.” He added: “I think there is unanimity in the Arab world, and indeed in much of the rest of the world, that the Israeli policy is wrong, that Israeli policy is brutal, repressive, and that they are not interested in peace no matter what you seem to believe in America.”
Some diplomatic sources in Washington suggested that Brahimi, a Sunni, was trying to appeal to Iraqi pan-Arab nationalistic sentiments in order to bolster his credibility in Iraq and to win the trust of Iraq’s Shiite majority.
Brahimi was swiftly condemned by Israel and several Jewish groups including the ADL, the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Brahimi’s comments, however, were downplayed by officials at the U.N. and the State Department, who chose to focus on what they described as his important work in Iraq.
The administration’s increasing reliance on Brahimi and the U.N. has attracted a rising tide of criticism from conservatives generally supportive of the White House, including former Reagan administration officials Richard Perle and Frank Gaffney.
Michael Rubin, former governance advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and currently a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that America’s apparent willingness to tolerate Brahimi’s comments is a case of “trading short term expediency for the long term good of the Iraqi people.” Rubin argued that “among both U.S. Central Command and the State Department there are people who are more concerned with America’s relations with regional states than they are in seeing the president’s agenda succeed.”
With reporting from Ami Eden in New York and Marc Perelman in Berlin.