WASHINGTON — Israeli officials and Jewish organizations in the United States were cheering President Bush’s decision to make Condoleezza Rice the next secretary of state and elevate her deputy, Stephen Hadley, to the post of national security advisor.
“I know them both,” Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Daniel Ayalon, told the Forward. “I have known them for many years and worked closely with them. They are both great friends of Israel as well as personal friends. I am very happy with the appointments.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, characterized Rice’s nomination as “a very good thing.” She is “close to the president and this will ensure a coordinated foreign policy,” he said.
Asked if this meant that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who announced his resignation this week, was preventing such coordination, Hoenlein replied, “Powell was not as close to the president.”
Powell, who submitted his resignation to the White House last week, has generally been perceived by Israel and most Jewish organizations as a friend of Jerusalem. He had close relations with Israeli political and military officials, and was particularly popular with many American Jews. In addition to the Yiddish he claims to have picked up during his childhood years living among Jews in New York City, Powell has demonstrated a deep understanding of Jewish sensitivities and policy concerns, said Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith.
In this administration, however, Powell found himself heading a frustrated foreign service that felt America should do more to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace, but often was marginalized by conservative aides in the White House, the office of Vice President Cheney and the Pentagon.
Powell had several significant disagreements with Bush and with other members of the president’s national security team, one subject being the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to State Department officials, Powell thought that the administration should have taken a stronger line with Ariel Sharon’s government on determining the route of the Israeli security fence in the West Bank, enforcing a freeze on the construction of settlements and dismantling illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank. Discussions with Sharon’s aides on these issues generally were conducted by Rice, now national security adviser; her deputy, Hadley, and her chief staffer on Middle East issues, Elliot Abrams, a neoconservative who, when out of office during the Clinton administration, criticized the Oslo peace process.
Powell’s staffers have complained several times that they were being shut out of high-level American-Israeli talks. They often protested that Bush did so partially to satisfy pro-Israel Jewish and Christian voters, but also because he fundamentally shares Sharon’s belief that Yasser Arafat was unwilling to put a stop to Palestinian terrorism.
For the time being, Jewish activists said, Elliot Abrams is expected to hold on to his position as director of the Middle East division at the National Security Council. Abrams has been influential not only in devising the White House’s pro-Sharon policy, but also in applying some pressure to settlements and the fence behind the scenes.
Rumors are flying at the State Department that the president plans to take the unusual step of assigning a political appointee, a conservative loyalist, to the position of assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in order to further reduce dissent within his administration on Middle East policy.