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Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has pledged new efforts toward Arab/Israeli peace and she'll likely visit the region this month. But U.S. officials have long complained that Israel has no partner for peace, so the Bush administration seems intent on boosting the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The U.S considers Hamas a terrorist organization and has led an international aid boycott of the Hamas government in the Palestinian territories. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, told reports at the State Department recently that Hamas has been busy arming itself, and that's why the U.S. is trying to help Mahmoud Abbas's presidential guard.
RICHARD JONES: At the same time that Hamas has been increasing its armament, violence and disorder has been increasing. So I think that you have to look at the current situation and to sort of say that somehow, we're going to be upsetting the status quo by providing equipment to the legitimate, authorized authorities, I think kind of flies in the face of logic.
KELEMEN: He spoke just days before Israeli officials leaked word that with their blessing, Egypt sent weapons and ammunition to help arm Abbas's forces. The Bush administration, meantime, has been consulting Congress, hoping to get the green light to spend tens of millions of dollars to help build up the Palestinian presidential guard.
Though he wouldn't provide any details of the expected aid package, Ambassador Jones says the idea is to restore some balance.
JONES: I think by restoring the balance, we will help restore security in the region.
KELEMEN: But Edward Abbington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and now an advisor to Abbas, accuses to Bush administration and Israel of trying to provoke a confrontation between Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas. He thinks this is part of the Bush administration's overall view of the Middle East as a struggle between moderates and extremists.
EDWARD ABBINGTON: They want to deny Islamists a role in governing, and they see building up of the forces of Fatah and President Abbas as a way to keep the Islamists from governing.
KELEMEN: A former State Department official with a long record in Middle East peacemaking, Aaron David Miller, says it's a risky policy that could fuel the conflict between Fatah and Hamas.
AARON DAVID MILLER: I guess I would compare them to two weak punch drunk boxers in a ring. Neither can deliver anything that remotely looks like a knockout punch, but they can't stop fighting at the same time.
KELEMEN: Miller's advice to the Bush administration is to empower Abbas, not militarily, but politically - that means delving into the Middle East peace process.
DAVID MILLER: Unless he can create a process that promises over time an end to Israeli occupation, then it seems to me the kinds of half measures or wrong measures that we may be anticipating is simply going to make us look bad and look as if we are simply backing one militia over the other.
KELEMEN: Miller, who's with the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, is doubtful the Bush administration is ready to get involved in a sort of Middle East peacemaking he thinks is needed.
DAVID MILLER: It would require enormous investment. It would require the president to make this a top priority at a time when Iraq is going to eat up all of the available oxygen in Washington.
KELEMEN: A State Department official says for now, the U.S. is gently pushing Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to continue making overtures to Palestinian leader Abbas and to take confidence-building steps.
Abbas's aide, Edward Abbington, says the U.S. and Israel are also floating the idea of jumping ahead to the roadmap to peace, and declaring a Palestinian state with provisional borders.
ABBINGTON: The problem with that from the Palestinian point of view is that they think that if they have a state with provisional borders, then there will never be a real negotiation on final borders. The provisional borders will become the final borders, and they feel that that would leave them with a truncated state without Jerusalem as its capital, East Jerusalem as its capital. And they're very leery of it.
KELEMEN: Abbington says Palestinians have few expectations for Secretary Rice's trip in January.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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