Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, February 02, 2007

David R. Sands, "Israeli envoy rejects Mideast 'linkage,'" Washington Times, February 1, 2007.

Foreign-policy crises in Iraq and Iran will not be eased by pressuring Israel to cut a peace deal with the Palestinians, Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor said in an interview yesterday.

Mr. Meridor, in a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, firmly rejected the idea pushed by Arab allies of the U.S. that an Israeli-Palestinian accord would reduce ethnic and sectarian violence in Iraq or slow Iran's quest for a nuclear bomb.

"Frankly, we don't see any connection between our dispute with the Palestinians and the level of violence on Haifa Street in Baghdad," said Mr. Meridor, who assumed his post in early December.

"And there is no linkage in my mind between the Israeli-Palestinian question and what Ahmadinejad is planning for the region and the world by pursuing a nuclear weapon."

Meanwhile, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said this week that Israel does not intend to use military force against Iran, which Israel suspects is building nuclear bombs.

In addition to Iran's nuclear program, Israel considers the Islamic republic a threat because of repeated declarations by Mr. Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state should be wiped off the map.

Mr. Peres spoke Tuesday during "the Doha Debates," a project in which world leaders discuss current events with students in the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Qatar.The central role of Israel's disputes with its Arab neighbors in fueling regional tensions was a key finding of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Indiana Democrat.

Mr. Meridor said in the interview that he saw the beginnings of a realignment in the Middle East, linking Israel and the United States with moderate Sunni Muslim Arab states fearful of the rising power of Shi'ite Iran. But he said it was too soon to tell whether an anti-Tehran coalition would form.

"We think that, yes, there is a convergence of interests of many Arab countries in the region and Israel today in recognition of the threat to the entire region from Iran," he said. "Whether that can be translated into action and a new alliance, we will have to see."

Moderate Arab governments have long argued that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has fueled tensions throughout the Muslim world, providing popular support to extremist groups.

"The continued denial of Palestinian rights is a fire starter," Jordan's King Abdullah II told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this week. "If you don't fix the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you can't have stability in the region."

The Iraq Study Group recommended renewed U.S. pressure on Israel to deal directly with the Palestinians, with Syria over the Golan Heights, and with Lebanon over the threat posed by the Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah.

"The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict," the panel concluded.

Israel has long feared pressure from Washington to make major concessions to the Palestinians to further other U.S. foreign-policy goals in the region. Mr. Meridor said a push for a peace deal now is complicated by the deep political divisions within the Palestinian territories.

"Nobody is more interested in a real two-state compromise than Israel, as we have demonstrated time and time again," Mr. Meridor said.

"The real problem is that, right now, we don't have a real interlocutor on the Palestinian side willing and capable of delivering an agreement that meets basic international principles," he said.

The Israeli envoy said his country was taking a "calculated risk" in allowing the buildup of security forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, locked in a bloody power struggle with the elected Hamas government.

Iran-backed Hamas, which the U.S. government and many European countries consider a terrorist movement, has refused to recognize Israel's right to exist and has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Israel.

The Bush administration also is considering expanded aid to Mr. Abbas' national security force, to beef up its firepower as clashes with Hamas supporters escalate, Western and Palestinian officials said yesterday.

But Mr. Meridor made it clear that the greatest threat to Israel, the region and the world was Iran's suspected quest for a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Meridor said an Iranian bomb would embolden the Islamic regime, change the balance of power in the region and risk a Middle East nuclear-arms race.

"The world not just Israel, not just the Middle East is facing its biggest security crisis since the 1930s," he warned.

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