Bush Team Wants World Focus on Iraq, Not Israel ; UN Security Council Resolution Blames Israel for Recent Violence, with US - in Awkward Bind - Abstaining
Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
The resurgence of Israeli-Palestinian violence threatens to derail US efforts to keep Iraq atop the international agenda.
After two suicide bombings last week spoiled a relatively long month-and-a-half of calm in the Middle East, at least nine Palestinians died Tuesday in the Gaza Strip. In addition, Mr. Arafat remains under siege in his Ramallah compound.
While American diplomats are concerned about the escalating violence in its own right, the acute concern raised by the recent violence is how it complicates American efforts to muster Arab support for the US campaign against Iraq - especially for a tough new United Nations Security Council resolution expected to demand that Iraq either accept unfettered weapons inspections, or face the consequences.
"There was a hope against hope in the [Bush] administration that you could have a war with Iraq and not have it aggravated by ... Israel, but this shows that's not going to be possible," says Ian Lustick, a Middle East expert at the Univeristy of Pennsylvania.
Calling efforts to "stir up violence in Israel ... pull Israel into an active conflict ..." and raise international concerns about the Palestinians' well-being the "cost-effective strategy in Saddam Hussein's arsenal," Mr. Lustick adds, "We're seeing just the first skirmishes of what we can expect along this line."
Already Arab states have pressed the issue, citing Israel's decades of flaunting UN demands. This makes President Bush's call for the UN to enforce Security Council resolutions on Iraq as politically expedient. "Why these double standards?" Yanya Mahmassani, a representative of the Arab League asked on Tuesday at the UN.
US concerns about Israeli policy
More than once since the spring, Middle East violence has sidetracked the US and the international community from confronting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. With that experience fresh in mind, the US is determined not to lose the momentum again.
Accordingly, the US took quick action to defuse the violence - and is indicating it may do more. On Monday the US proposed a draft Security Council resolution condemning Israel's recent actions in unusually strong terms as well as Palestinian suicide bombers.
The US draft was ultimately not adopted in the heated fourteen hour debate. Instead, the Security Council early Tuesday voted 14-0 vote in favor of a resolution calling upon Israel to stop the siege of Mr. Arafat's headquarters. It also pressed Israel for "[an] expeditious withdrawal of ... occupying forces" and the Palestinians "to ensure that those responsible for terrorist acts are brought to justice." The US abstained - but pointedly did not veto the measure. …