U.S. envoy to Israel slated for top Mideast job in D.C.

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — In a long-anticipated move, President Clinton has tapped Martin Indyk, the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to Israel, to serve in the State Department's top Middle East policy-making position.

Supporters and opponents alike say Indyk, who served as the National Security Council's senior director for Middle East affairs before taking the ambassadorship 2-1/2 years ago, should face little opposition in being confirmed by the Senate as the first Jewish assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

Indyk, who worked at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, in the early 1980s before founding the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is described by observers as someone who is extremely knowledgeable in Middle East issues and has developed good relations with parties involved on both sides of the Israeli-Arab dispute.

While serving as executive director of the institute, a think tank started to counter the perceived pro-Arab bias at the State Department and other Washington think tanks, Indyk became an influential voice on Middle East issues and briefed top government officials, including Presidents Bush and Clinton.

The nomination of Indyk, 46, who was born in London, raised in Australia and became a United States citizen in 1993, has been actively opposed so far by only one American Jewish group.

Since Indyk's name surfaced as the leading candidate for the job several months ago, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, has waged a campaign against him.

Klein has charged that Indyk has interfered in Israel's internal political affairs, pressured the Israeli government to make concessions to the Palestinians, holds a pro-Arab bias and has made a string of "insulting, demeaning and patronizing statements about Israel."

Indyk has also drawn criticism from Uzi Landau, the chairman of the Israeli Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, for allegedly "pressuring members of the government" and "interfering in Israel's internal political affairs."

In a March 15 speech, according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Landau said Indyk "needs to be reminded that he is not the British high commissioner," a reference to Herbert Samuel, a Jew, who held the position during the 1920s and was seen as often siding with the Arabs.

In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, Indyk addressed the charge.

"There is a tendency in Israel to look toward the U.S. to solve your problems," he said. As a result, he added, Israeli government officials "say let's call in the ambassador to deal with this problem, or to get approval for what we are going to do, or make sure that the U.S. supports us before we act in a particular sphere. I think this is an unhealthy situation."

In a May 18 statement that drew criticism from ZOA and some concern in AIPAC's biweekly newsletter, Near East Report, Indyk discussed the deadlock in the peace process, saying, "The core bargain of Oslo has broken down."

Referring to referring to the Israeli-Palestinian accords, he said, "Israelis were promised security; Palestinians were promised self-government and a credible pathway to negotiating their rights in a final-status agreement.

"Terrorism, on the one side, and unilateral actions which have created the impression that the final-status issues are being pre-empted on the other, have combined to break this trust on which the partnership for peace is based."

Klein said Indyk's statement "suggested a moral equivalence between Arab terrorism and legal, peaceful Israeli housing construction," a reference to Har Homa, a Jewish housing project being built in southeastern Jerusalem, which has been opposed by the Palestinians.

Near East Report, in its June 2 issue, highlighted Indyk's comment in a box on page two under the headline "U.S. Statements Display Faulty Moral Equivalence."

The unsigned article said Indyk's comments did not "live up" to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's standard that there is no moral equivalence with terrorism.

While AIPAC expressed concern regarding Indyk's statement, an AIPAC official said the organization is "confident he will carry out his new responsibilities and represent the president's policies in the most professional manner."

Klein, who said other Jewish leaders opposed to Indyk are reluctant to fight his nomination because they believe it is a losing cause, plans to visit senators to express "our great concern that Martin Indyk is an unfair arbiter of the Oslo Accords."

Jonathan Jacoby, executive vice president of the Israel Policy Forum, a group that supports a strong U.S. role in the peace process, said that Indyk, as an American diplomat, will support the interests of the United States, but he is "also a lover of Israel."

Jacoby said it is wrong to think that Indyk "would act in a way that is detrimental to Israel's interests."

Some Arab-Americans have also expressed concerns — although for other reasons — with Indyk's nomination.

Khalil Jahshan, president of the National Association of Arab Americans, said Arab-Americans are concerned that a position normally given to a career diplomat has been offered to someone whose career was spent "working on behalf" of pro-Israel issues.

He described the nomination as a "political appointment" to "satisfy the American Jewish community."

Despite his group's opposition to Indyk's nomination, Jahshan said he will not actively fight the nomination on Capitol Hill because Indyk's confirmation is "ironclad."

Democratic and Republican sources on Capitol Hill said they have not seen any real opposition to Indyk's nomination.

"Absent some really damaging information, I think Martin would be confirmed," said one Democratic Senate staffer.