WASHINGTON Ñ President George Bush has resolved a heated dispute within his
administration over U.S. strategy to establish a Palestinian state.
Administration officials and senior sources in Congress said Bush
resolved several issues that concerned U.S. policy to establish an interim
Palestinian state by the end of 2003.
Most of the issues, the officials and congressional sources said, were
submitted to Bush's chief political strategist Karl Rove. They said Rove,
who engineered the Republican victory in Congress in November 2002, has been
granted major input in U.S. foreign policy as part of an effort to prepare
Bush's reelection campaign in 2004. Rove accompanied the president during
the Sharm e-Sheik and Aqaba summits, Middle East Newsline reported.
The officials said the decisions
concerned policy issues as well as appointments to oversee the so-called
roadmap. The roadmap, drafted by Washington, the European Union, United
Nations and Russia, also envisions a Palestinian state with permanent
borders in 2005.
"The struggle was basically over whether the National Security Council
or the State Department would be responsible for the roadmap issue," an
official said. "State won and it will largely determine the tactics and pace
of the process."
"There were some heated discussions within the top echelon of the
administration over the principles that would guide the roadmap," an
official said. "The debates were both between and within agencies and the
president resolved them on the eve of his arrival in Sharm [e-Sheik] to meet
with Arab leaders."
The administration officials and congressional sources said a key debate
was whether to link the establishment of an interim Palestinian state to the
elimination of Palestinian insurgency groups by the Palestinian Authority as
well as an Arab commitment to stop funding such groups as Hamas and Islamic
Jihad. They said officials in the Defense Department and National Security
Council said such a condition was vital to ensure that a Palestinian state
would not endanger U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.
As late as Saturday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asserted
that Bush had maintained the linkage between a Palestinian state and an end
to insurgency groups. Wolfowitz said the issue was a key element in Bush's
pledge in June 2002 for the establishment of a democratic and peaceful
"As President Bush said last June, the United States supports the
establishment of a Palestinian state if Palestinians, in turn, embrace
democracy, confront corruption and reject terror," Wolfowitz, addressing a
security conference in Singapore, said. "The roadmap lays the foundation for
this state. It also lays down markers for what Palestinians and Israelis
But officials said Bush decided not to impose conditions for the
establishment of an interim state. They said that instead Bush expressed his
determination to achieve a Palestinian ceasefire as well as an Israeli
withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Another issue that at one point divided the administration was whether
Bush should press Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to stop all
Saudi funding to Hamas. Several officials had argued that a halt in Saudi
funding to Hamas would help the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud
Abbas, who has pledged to end Palestinian attacks against Israel.
The State Department rejected the proposal, officials said. They said
Assistant Secretary of State William Burns argued that Riyad has taken
significant steps to stop the funding of groups deemed as terrorists and has
allowed a U.S. interagency team to monitor the investigation of the May 12
suicide strikes in Riyad.
Burns and other officials warned that raising the Hamas issue with
Abdullah could endanger other U.S.-Saudi cooperation against Al Qaida. In
the end, Bush decided not to press the Hamas issue with Abdullah during
their meeting on Tuesday, officials said.
"The Saudis told the president that they are making renewed efforts on
the fight against terrorism, including particularly on the financing of
terrorism," U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told a briefing
in Sharm e-Sheik on Tuesday.
The administration also argued over the content of the communiques for
the summits in Sharm e-Sheik and Aqaba. Officials said Pentagon and National
Security Council aides wanted the communiques to include the U.S. commitment
to the continuation of a Jewish state. They said the proponents, including
several leading House and Senate members, argued that this would reassure
Israel that Washington would reject a Palestinian demand for the return of
millions of refugees and their descendants to their homes in Israel.
Bush, however, decided in favor of a recommendation by Secretary of
State Colin Powell not to include any mention of a Jewish state in the
summit communiques. Instead, Powell told a news conference in Sharm that the
United States envisions Israel as a Jewish state alongside a "contiguous"
"Israel, to live side by side in peace with Palestine, must be always
seen as a Jewish state," Powell said. "That has implications, as we go
forward, as to how we will negotiate some of the difficult issues that
remain in front of us."
Officials said the most heated dispute concerned the appointment of a
presidential envoy to monitor the roadmap. Ms. Rice urged the president to
appoint outgoing U.S. ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, as the U.S.
monitor of Israeli and Palestinian commitments to the roadmap. Blackwill is
regarded as a personal friend of Bush.
But Powell was said to have opposed Blackwill's appointment. Blackwill
often clashed with Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca in the
ambassador's support for Indian-U.S. defense relations and the inclusion of
Israel in a strategic alliance with Washington and New Dehli.
Finally, Bush agreed not to appoint Blackwill and asked Powell for his
recommendation. Officials said Powell recommended Assistant Secretary of
State John Wolf, responsible for State Department policy on
nonproliferation. Wolf served in the State Department's Bureau of Near
Eastern and South Asian Affairs under the administration of President Ronald
Reagan in 1987 and 1988.