The Bush administration is telling each side in the Middle East what it wants to hear.
JAMES D. BESSER
Sharon's reoccupation of parts of the West Bank and
its ongoing military offensive against terror targets
— but it criticized the July 22 missile attack against
a Hamas leader in Gaza, which resulted in 15 civil-
ian casualties, as "heavy handed."
That prompted a response from Rep. Eliot Engel,
D-N.Y., who called the White House condemnation
"absurd. The United States is right to continue our
fight against terror in Afghanistan, and Israel is right
to continue their fight against those who seek to
destroy Israel and any hopes of peace with suicide
bombings and shootings."
he Bush administration, beset with prob-
lems at home and pressed by all sides in
the turbulent Middle East, continues
telling everyone involved in the Arab-
Israel conflict what they want to hear.
The result, according to several Jewish analysts: ping-
ponging policy that is having little impact in moving
Israel and the Palestinians closer to an agreement.
On July 22, several envoys from Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon met with Secretary of State
Colin Powell and National Security Adviser
Dov Weissglas, Sharon's chief of staff, and military Several Jewish groups reacted angrily to the Bush
administration flip-flop on the question of funding
attache Moshe Kaplinsky came away with assurances
for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
that Washington will still insist that the Palestinians
Last year, President Bush proposed a $25 million
take serious steps to stop terrorism before new U.S.-
U.S. contribution to the program; a bipartisan group
led negotiations can begin.
of lawmakers raised the appropriation to $34 million:
But last week, meeting with the foreign ministers
But after fierce pressure from religious conserva-
of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials
tives, who say some of the money is used to encour-
stressed something else — their desire to move
age abortions around the world and forced
toward creation of a Palestinian state within
sterilizations in China, the administration
three years, a key Arab demand.
this week decided to cut the UNFPA fund-
And at the recent meeting of the Mideast
ing — already incorporated into the foreign
"Quartet," Washington signaled agreement
aid bill signed into law earlier this year.
to the European demand for parallel progress
The reason? "Simple abortion politics," said
on the security and political fronts.
Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director
Robert Satloff, director of policy and
for the National Council of Jewish Women.
strategic planning for the Washington
"We believe this is going to impact the lives
Institute for Near East Policy, said the
and health of millions of women worldwide."
Quartet statement reflected a "subtle back-
Moshenberg said that an aroused Congress could
tracking" by the administration after Bush's June 24
reverse the administration's sudden decision, but
speech demanding Arafat's removal.
that the fight will be "difficult." Rep. Nita Lowey,
Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum
D-N.Y., a leading member of the Jewish delegation
and a leading peace process critic, was blunter.
in Congress and chair of the Democratic
"In all my years, I've never seen anadministration as
Congressional Campaign Committee, accused the
unpredictable as this one," he said. "They seem to just
administration of "backtracking on a deal with
bounce from press conference to press conference; it's
Congress. Apparently, no price is too high for this
hard to see any continuity at all. There is an erratic
administration when it comes to political payoffs."
quality that renders American policy less effective."
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Pipes said the endless flip-flopping may be the
this week issued an action alert urging members to
result of several factors — including ongoing con-
press Congress to reverse the decision.
flict between the hard-line Pentagon and the State
Department and a simple desire to mollify all
Mideast parties while the administration focuses its
attention on other problems, foreign and domestic.
Officials of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council
Judith Kipper, director of the Mideast program at
are rejecting claims by Rabbi Avi Weiss, a prominent
the Center for Strategic and International Studies and
Holocaust activist and Council critic, that construc-
a peace process supporter, agreed that the administra-
tion of a new memorial to the victims of the Belzec
tion seems rudderless in the turbulent Middle East.
"There are speeches, there are statements of 'vision,' death camp in southeastern Poland is resulting in
systematic desecration of the site where hundreds of
but there's no real plan of action," she said. "As a
thousands of Jews are buried.
result, everything is makeshift." The administration's
But council officials concede that workers at the
top goal, she said, seems to be to "keep any of the
scene inappropriately removed some human remains
interested parties from getting hot and bothered."
and that the entire project needs tighter controls to
This week, the mixed signals continued.
The White House , has generally shown approval of ensure there is no repetition of what a Polish author-
ity called an "unfortunate and pitiful incident." In
fact, sources say that the council, which runs the
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, would like to
spin the project off to another agency.
Rabbi Weiss made the charge in a column in a
Jewish newspaper and in an open letter to council
chair Fred Zeidman. He called the museum's plan to
build a memorial to the 600,000 Belzec victims
"bizarre," and charged that if it continues, the
human remains at the site will be "dumped out as
Miles Lerman, the former council chair who has
played a leading role in negotiating agreements with
the Polish government over the preservation of
Holocaust sites, said the goal is to protect the site
and its grim contents, not destroy it.
"It will desecrate the site if we leave it as it is," he
said. "It has been neglected for years; it's full of beer
bottles, it's used for bonfires. It would heartbreaking
to let it remain that way."
Lerman said that eight years of negotiations have
produced a plan for a memorial "that will preserve the
memory of the victims and tell the story as it actually
happened." A Soviet-era monument at the site memo-
rialized "victims of fascism," ignoring the fact that the
victims of Belzec were overwhelmingly Jewish.
Lerman conceded that recently, local authorities
permitted the removal of some human remains as
part of the dismantling of the old monument.
Council sources say there were two separate inci-
dents. In one, workers dismantling the old memorial
unearthed a box containing human bones and other
remains. A local rabbi was consulted, they said, and
the remains were buried properly.
But a second incident was more serious. An
unspecified amount of earth containing ashes and
bone fragments was removed from the site and
dumped about a kilometer away. Because of that inci-
dent, Lerman said, the entire project "is on hold."
In a letter to the council, Andrzej Przewoznik, sec-
retary of the Council for the Protection of
Monuments of Combat and Martyrdom, admitted
that workers had disturbed human remains "despite
our best efforts and instructions."
A museum spokesman said the new memorial will
"run along the perimeter of the site; it will not cut
through the mass graves. And rabbinic authorities
will have the final say when human remains are
But some council officials are unhappy about the
entire project. "There is growing feeling on the coun-
cil that while this project was undertaken for all the
right reasons, we simply do not have the ability to
provide oversight for such an undertaking in
Poland," said a council source. "And there is concern
that the local Jewish authorities may not be sufficient
to prevent this kind of thing from happening."
Lerman raised more than $1 million for the proj-
ect, mostly from families of Belzec victims. ❑