The Bush administration is undertaking much of its current Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy to appease the Arabs and Europeans, a top White House official told a group of Jewish Republicans recently, according to those present. Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams said much of the heightened State Department activity with the two parties was "process for the sake of process" and being done to "assuage the Arabs and the Europeans, who haven't been happy with the United States [and are] happy to see that there's at least an attempt or energy being put into the peace process," according to one attendee at the closed-door meeting.
Benchmarks for a bloodbath
In response to a question raised at the event about whether "European and Arab pressure could put Israel in a corner," the National Security Council issued a statement saying that "ultimately, the United States provides an emergency brake."
Abrams also told the meeting that he would guard against the bureaucrats at the State Department taking over American Middle East policy, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice falling into the "Clintonian mode" of needing to point to achievements to secure her legacy as her term concludes, according to someone at the discussion.
The source was referring to the increased pace of diplomatic arm-twisting in search of peace between Palestinians and Israelis on the part of president Bill Clinton in the waning days of his time in office.
Rice has traveled to the region several times this year and brokered meetings between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as part of efforts to create a "political horizon" of the contours of a Palestinian state. Most recently, the administration presented both parties with a set of benchmarks concerning freedom of movement and security undertakings as a basis of discussion.
Another visit by Rice to Israel and the Palestinian Authority had been in the works, but was postponed last week, a decision the State Department attributed to scheduling issues and the delicate Israeli political situation.
Some observers suggested Rice would have had little to show for her trip, as the sides have differed on the benchmark proposal. Hamas, which controls much of the PA, has rejected it outright, while some Israeli officials have also been critical of the document.
Abrams is said to have suggested, however, that these smaller-level moves, as well as the US plan to help train Palestinian security forces, are more achievable and helpful in the short-term.
Those at the Abrams briefing said they didn't detect tensions between Abrams and Rice, but rather between the White House approach and that of the State Department bureaucracy. Rice is a newcomer to that establishment, as she served above Abrams as national security adviser during President George W. Bush's first term.
The NSC stressed that there was no daylight between Rice and Abrams or between the State Department and the White House.
"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."