New Mideast envoy will be overseer, not mediator

Instead, Wolf will serve predominantly as the head of a monitoring group that will oversee implementation of the "road map," the three-stage approach toward Israeli-Palestinian peace drawn up by the United States and its "Quartet" partners — the United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Already, close to 10 CIA officials are on the ground in the Middle East, and Wolf is expected to oversee their efforts to make sure both parties comply with the steps outlined in the road map.

Among the initial steps are specific measures taken by the Palestinians to crack down on terrorism and by the Israelis to freeze settlement building and dismantle illegal settlement outposts erected since 2001.

"They will be investigating charges on both sides, investigating hot spots and reporting on violent activities," one State Department official said.

While other recent U.S. envoys have shuttled back and forth to the region, Wolf and his team are expected to stay in the Middle East, most likely based in Jerusalem.

Also unlike previous envoys, Wolf is not expected to settle disputes between the parties or interpret the road map.

Originally from Philadelphia, Wolf is an unknown quantity in Middle East diplomacy, but he is well-respected within Foreign Service circles.

He is a former ambassador to Malaysia, and served as a special adviser to President Clinton for Caspian Basin energy diplomacy.

The selection of Wolf comes after several more-prominent officials turned down the position, sources said. But in the end, they said, the choice of a career official works with the Bush administration's revised vision of the position.

"This is not negotiation, this is implementation," said a State Department official.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), a Democratic presidential candidate, has long advocated a senior envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said he was disappointed by the selection. He said a more senior envoy "would have been more effective and would have shown the seriousness of this administration."

Few in the Jewish community in Washington are familiar with Wolf, whose work has focused on Asia.

But while there is concern about an envoy emerging from the State Department, which is seen within the Bush administration as more sympathetic to the Palestinians, there is at least some optimism about Wolf. "The president's confidence in him, at this sensitive time, alleviates our concerns,'' said one Jewish leader, who asked not to be identified.