U.S. will focus on settlements after war, Wolfowitz says
[Ha'aretz - 19 January]:
In his first public comments regarding U.S. policy in the Middle East on the "day after" the anticipated war in Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said the administration will intensify its focus on the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In an interview in the Washington Post on Friday, Wolfowitz said, "Our stake in pushing for a Palestinian state will grow" after the war, and he noted that he preferred "concrete steps, like dealing with the settlements" over the advancing of diplomatic issues as part of a "process."
Wolfowitz is the most senior Jewish member of the political and defense branches of the current U.S. administration. He is considered to be the architect behind the current closing in on Iraq, a clear supporter of Israel, and a leading member of the Jewish right in Washington, which includes Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, and the National Security Council adviser on the Middle East, Elliot Abrams.
Wolfowitz has family, including a sister, in Israel, and is well-acquainted with many members of the government, including Nathan Sharansky and former ambassador to Washington, David Ivry.
Several months ago, Wolfowitz represented the administration at a pro-Israel rally, and enraged Jewish activists and the Christian right when he emphasized the need for a political solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
In a discussion with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Wolfowitz stressed that "the Israelis have to be kept out" of any U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
During the previous Gulf War, Wolfowitz held the No. 3 spot at the Pentagon, and he was dispatched to Israel while the country was under attack from Iraqi ballistic missiles.
A senior government source surprised by Wolfowitz's comments on the settlements, attributed them to his desire to rally Arab and European support for the war against Iraq.
"There is no other way to explain it," he said, since the administration has yet to present Israel officially with its expectations on "the day after."
The dominant opinion in Israel is that even after the war in Iraq, the U.S. administration will not rush to pressure Israel into making concessions, because there will be other priorities, and President George Bush will be facing an election year and will need the Jewish vote.
However, reports have reached Jerusalem about comments on the settlements made by Elliot Abrams, who is the administration figure for preparations for "the day after." Abrams, known for his sharp criticism of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, has asked, "What do they [the Israelis] want with these settlements?"
In recent weeks the administration's diplomatic focus has been the "road map" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the U.S. has not finalized the document's contents with its Quartet partners - the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - on said when final version will be presented. The Europeans are pressing for its completion immediately following Israel's January 28 elections, while the Americans would like to see a government in place before they proceed.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is derisive of the Quartet's efforts in an interview to be published in the Washington Post today: "The Quartet is nothing! I do not take it seriously and I believe that the U.S. also does not take it seriously."
Sharon reiterates a three-phase plan he says he concluded with the U.S. administration: an end to terrorism and a change in Palestinian leadership; establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders; and then a permanent solution.
The Israeli government is now waiting for the administration to initiate more intensive contacts leading to approval of the special aid package requested by Jerusalem. Government sources in Jerusalem believe that Washington will make an announcement about this prior to the elections here.
By Aluf Benn