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    Middle East
     Feb 23, 2007
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Rice faces formidable White House foe
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - If, as she insists, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is determined to make concrete progress toward achieving President George W Bush's vision of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question, one in which Israel would be required to make major territorial concessions, it appears that she faces a major foe in the White House.

No, not only Vice President Dick Cheney and the surviving members of the neo-conservative clique that surrounded him and

former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld during Bush's first term - although the Vice President's Office remains a formidable force against any concessions to a Palestinian government of national unity that includes Hamas, despite Saudi Arabia's role in midwifing its birth at Mecca last week.

Rather, it appears that Rice's own chief Middle East aide when she served as Bush's national security adviser, Elliott Abrams, has become the principal foil in frustrating her efforts to resume a peace process.

Until her meeting in Jerusalem last weekend with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the process had been frozen since the last days of US president Bill Clinton's administration.

Abrams' personal influence over Bush could not possibly match Rice's, but his bureaucratic skills and political connections - notably to the so-called "Israel lobby" of pro-Likud Jewish organizations and the Christian Right - give him considerable clout. According to various sources, Abrams has been working systematically to undermine any prospect for serious negotiations designed to give substance to Rice's hopes - and increasingly impatient demands by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia - of offering the Palestinians a "political horizon" for a final settlement.

"The Bush administration has done nothing to press Israel to deliver on its commitments, beyond Washington's empty rhetoric about a two-state 'political horizon'," Henry Siegman, the longtime director of the US/Middle East Project at the influential Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in the International Herald Tribune just last week.

"Every time there emerged the slightest hint that the United States may finally engage seriously in a political process, Elliott Abrams would meet secretly with Olmert's envoys in Europe or elsewhere to reassure them that there exists no such danger," Siegman complained.

After the resignation of Cheney's chief of staff, I Lewis Libby, and the departure from the Pentagon nearly two years ago of Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, Abrams became the US administration's most influential neo-conservative, particularly regarding Middle East policy, which he oversees as deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy.

Abrams was an early protege of Richard Perle, whom he first met, along with other prominent pro-Likud hardliners such as Feith, former ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, while working in the offices of Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Democratic US senator for Washington state from 1953 until his death in 1983. Abrams rose swiftly through the neo-conservative ranks, even becoming a member of one of its most influential families as the son-in-law of the legendary editor of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, and his activist wife, Midge Decter, who herself published a hagiography of Rumsfeld just after the invasion of Iraq.

Like his fellow-neo-cons, Abrams has never trusted "peace processes", and not just between Israel and its Arab neighbors. During the mid-1980s, when he served as the top Latin America policymaker in president Ronald Reagan's State Department, he worked doggedly to scuttle all regional diplomatic efforts to stop not only Washington's "contra war" against Nicaragua's Sandinista government (which, among other things, he charged with anti-Semitism) and the civil war in El Salvador, but even in southern Africa, where Cuban troops helped defend Angola against attacks by South Africa and its proxies.

"He opposed regional peace talks, he opposed bilateral talks between the United States and Nicaragua, and he opposed talks with Cuba," said William LeoGrande, dean of American University's School of Public Affairs and author of In Our Backyard, a magisterial work on US Central America policy.

"He wouldn't negotiate with adversaries, even when negotiations promised to safeguard US interests," LeoGrande said, citing the eventual deal that resulted in Cuba's withdrawal from Africa in exchange for Namibian independence. "He insisted on total victory, as if foreign policy were a moral crusade in which compromise was anathema."

Badly damaged by his felony conviction for lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Abrams, like many neo-cons, left government service under the decidedly "realist" administration of president George H W Bush and spent the 1990s at various think tanks. There, he helped forge the coalition - epitomized by Kristol's Project for the New American Century of which he was a charter member - of mainly Jewish neo-conservatives, the Christian and Catholic Right, and aggressive nationalists that would seize control of US policy after the terror attacks of September 2001.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abrams has long been identified with his hardline patrons, such as Perle and Podhoretz, who have strongly opposed the "land for peace" formula that, until the younger Bush, had been official US policy since 1967.

When the elder Bush pressed Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to participate in the Madrid peace conference after the first Gulf War, Abrams and dozens of other neo-conservatives organized the Committee on US Interests in the Middle East to lobby against such an effort.

Throughout the 1990s, Abrams denounced the Oslo peace process in the strongest terms - a Likud government was engaged in it. When Palestinians launched the second intifada in September 2000, he lambasted mainstream US Jewish groups for their continued support for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as "self-delusion". "The Palestinian leadership," he wrote, "does not want peace with Israel, and there will be no peace."

Politically unable, because of his Iran-Contra conviction, to gain Senate confirmation to a State Department or Pentagon post, Abrams entered the George W Bush administration as a National Security Council (NSC) staffer under Rice in 2001 with responsibility for democracy promotion. But in a major coup that set off celebrations in Rumsfeld's and Cheney's offices, he was given the Middle East portfolio in December 2002.

In that capacity, he forged close ties to Dov Weisglass and Shalom Turgeman, two of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's top aides. Together, the three men established a direct channel between Sharon's office and Rice's NSC that in effect excluded

Continued 1 2 

Hopeless, but not serious (Feb 6, '07)

A whiff of desperation in the air (Jan 18, '07)

No-goodniks and the Palestinian shootout (Jan 9, '07)


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