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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Analysis: Bush's Israeli dilemma
Colin Powell with Ariel Sharon
Colin Powell will revisit Israel on his current peace tour
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By Jonathan Marcus
BBC US Affairs analyst
The Bush administration is somewhat schizophrenic in its attitude to the Middle East crisis.

There's no doubt it wants Israel's current offensive in the occupied territories to end.

State Department officials and key cabinet members like Colin Powell clearly believe that a diplomatic solution is the only way forward.

But the cynics who have noted that the Secretary of State has not made Israel his first port of call may be right in thinking that Washington's intention is to give Israel a narrow margin of time in which to wind up its operations on the ground.

President Bush
President Bush: Stepped up calls for withdrawl
This is indicative of the other aspect of the US policy, one probably strongly influenced by the president himself and bolstered by key officials in the Pentagon, who see Israel's actions in large part through the prism of counter-terrorism.

But the Bush administration is clearly united in its view that the violence between Israelis and Palestinians risks undermining wider US goals in the region, notably the effort to construct a new coalition to back future US military action against Iraq.

An administration that took office eager to avoid becoming bogged down in Middle East peace-making has found itself with no alternative but to risk just that.

Strong support

Critics of Israel argue that US pressure on Ariel Sharon should be even greater.

Israel they say should be forced to make concessions. And they point to the impact of the Jewish lobby in Washington as being the principal reason why America holds back.

There's no doubting the effectiveness of the Jewish lobby which is well-organised and highly influential with strong contacts on both Capitol Hill and within the White House.

Mr Sharon is going to have to show some willingness to compromise

But its impact is sometimes over-stated. What's significant about the Jewish lobby is that generally it is pushing against an open door; there is strong and widespread support for Israel in the United States which tends to see Israel as an embattled island of democracy in a hostile region.

When the Jewish lobby has sought to oppose steps seen as vital to US security interests in the region, for example its efforts to halt the sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan years, it failed.

Need for compromise

Indeed in the wake of the terror attacks of 11 September and the suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, opinion polls suggest that even more Americans identify with Israel's plight.

But Ariel Sharon would be wrong to imagine that this support gives him a free hand. Little is yet known about the casualties or damage inflicted by Israel's current security operations.

Even some Israeli spokesmen have expressed their fears that once the truth is known it could significantly damage Israel's reputation abroad.

Mr Sharon is going to have to show some willingness to compromise on key US demands - like a freeze on settlement activity in the occupied territories.

But it is equally true that if the suicide bombings resume then overt US pressure on Israel will be far less likely.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Middle East
US steps up pressure on Sharon
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli troops begin withdrawal
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell to hear Egypt's frustration
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