Is­raeli prime min­is­ter says con­flict not linked to Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - From Page One - By Joshua Mit­nick

TEL AVIV — Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert on Dec. 7 re­jected a U.S. ad­vi­sory group’s con­clu­sion that re­solv­ing Is­rael’s con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans would help sta­bi­lize the war be­tween Sunni and Shi’ite Mus­lims in Iraq.

“The at­tempt to cre­ate a link­age be­tween the Iraqi is­sue and the Mideast is­sue — we have a dif­fer­ent view,” Mr. Olmert told re­porters a day af­ter the U.S. Iraq Study Group re­leased a re­port with 79 rec­om­men­da­tions to help pacify Iraq.

Chaired by for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III and for­mer Rep. Lee H. Hamil­ton, the group said U.S. suc­cess in Iraq de­pends on a “re­newed and sus­tained com­mit­ment” by the United States to a com­pre­hen­sive Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace.

The re­port also pro­posed new ne­go­ti­a­tions with Syria over the Golan Heights, which Is­rael cap­tured in a 1967 war, and ne­go­ti­a­tions over the “right of re­turn” for Pales­tinian refugees dis- placed by Is­rael dur­ing the 1948 war that cre­ated the Jewish state.

Asked about Mr. Olmert’s com­ments, State De­part­ment spokesman Sean McCor­mack said the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion will “make de­ci­sions about our na­tional pol­icy fun­da­men­tally based on our na­tional in­ter­est in do­ing what we think is right.”

Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice does not view the Bak­erHamil­ton re­port as a crit­i­cism of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies, Mr. McCor­mack told re­porters in Wash­ing­ton.

He noted that Miss Rice will most likely travel to the Mid­dle East “early in the new year” in an at­tempt to restart Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace talks.

“She’s sec­re­tary of state and she has to deal with the en­tire world, but it cer­tainly is at the top of her list in terms of is­sues that she is per­son­ally en­gaged on,” Mr. McCor­mack said.

The specter of Mr. Baker’s in­volve­ment was par­tic­u­larly trou­bling for many Is­raelis.

“If Bush ac­cepts the rec­om­men­da­tions, Is­raelis are go­ing to face pres­sure that they’re not used to,” said Ger­shon Baskin, co-chair­man of the Is­rael-Pales­tine Cen­ter for Re­search and In­for­ma­tion.

Mr. Baker is re­mem­bered for press­ing for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Shamir to at­tend an in­ter­na­tional peace con­fer­ence in Madrid in 1991, where Is­rael was forced to sit down with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the first time.

Mr. Baker also used fi­nan­cial aid to Is­rael to pres­sure the Shamir gov­ern­ment to stop ex­pand­ing Jewish set­tle­ments.

“We thought af­ter the six years of Bush, that the poli­cies which Baker rep­re­sents had died,” said Ze­vu­lun Or­lev, a mem­ber of the right wing Na­tional Re­li­gious Party who bris­tled at the idea of re­newed ne­go­ti­a­tions with Syria.

“There is no block­ing of the coun­tries that rep­re­sent a threat to Is­rael, like Iran and Syria. The rec­om­men­da­tions even give them le­git­i­macy,” he said.

The head of the Arab League on Dec. 7 en­dorsed the Iraq Study Group’s sug­ges­tion for a re­gional con­fer­ence on the war in Iraq, and said the gath­er­ing must in­clude Iran and Syria.

“It’s the right de­ci­sion to talk with all the neigh­bors of Iraq, and that in­cludes Syria and Iran,” said Amr Moussa, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the League of Arab States and a for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary of Egypt, dur­ing a visit to Wash­ing­ton on Dec. 7.

“A pol­icy to iso­late any coun­try doesn’t work,” Mr. Moussa said. “All have in­flu­ence [in Iraq]. They all can cre­ate other prob­lems in other sit­u­a­tions in the re­gion.”

The Cairo-based Arab League, whose 22 mem­bers in­clude such ma­jor Sunni Arab regimes as Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia and Jor­dan, ear­lier this week en­dorsed the idea of a “na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion con­fer­ence” to be held soon in Bagh­dad. The meet­ing would bring to­gether the Shi’ite-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment with Sunni, Shia and Kur­dish fac­tions.

Mr. Moussa also strongly em­braced the Baker-Hamil­ton panel’s call for a more ac­tive U.S. role in solv­ing the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

“The hon­est bro­ker role is still open to the United States — and only to the United States — to play in the re­gion,” he said. “I be­lieve there is the ca­pac­ity and the in­ten­tion for the United States to once again play that role.”

Is­raeli doves said the Iraq pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions could be help­ful if it prompts the United States to be­come more ac­tive in pro­mot­ing peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. Aside from the stalled “road map” peace ini­tia­tive and a spe­cial mil­i­tary en­voy to the Pales­tinian Con­sulate, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has been very hands off re­gard­ing the peace process.

“Ge­orge Bush, in his friend­ship, has aban­doned us. I pre­fer friends like James Baker to Ge­orge Bush. James Baker at least cares what goes on here,” said Yossi Sarid, a for­mer par­lia­ment mem­ber from the dovish Meretz party. “Ge­orge Bush has ig­nored this area for years, ex­cept for the dis­as­ter that he lev­eled on Iraq. So at least he owes us for what was done in Iraq.”

Ni­cholas Kralev and David R. Sands con­trib­uted to this re­port in Wash­ing­ton.

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