Jews welcome new role for Rice, call her friend of Israel

washington | As President Bush’s national security adviser over the past four years, Condoleezza Rice has been his key conduit for foreign policy, eclipsing the State Department in the day-to-day handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other burning international issues.

Now tapped as the nominee for secretary of state, to lead the very organization she has helped marginalize, Rice is expected to continue playing a lead role, something welcomed by many Israelis and American Jews.

Many anticipate that support for Israel’s strong anti-terrorist stance now will be endorsed throughout the Bush administration.

Bush picked Rice as the next secretary of state Tuesday, Nov. 16, calling on one of his most trusted advisers and a woman who some say has been treated like a member of the Bush family. The nomination must be approved by the Senate.

“We’re pursuing a positive new direction to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, an approach that honors the peaceful aspirations of the Palestinian people through a democratic state and an approach that will ensure the security of our good friend Israel,” Bush said Nov. 16 in announcing the nomination.

“Meeting all of these objectives will require wise and skillful leadership at the Department of State, and Condoleezza Rice is the right person for that challenge.”

A former Stanford University provost, Rice is on leave as a senior fellow in the Hoover Institution and a tenured professor of political science.

Bush also named Stephen Hadley as his new national security adviser. As Rice’s deputy, Hadley was considered a supporter of Israel on the National Security Council.

Hadley worked with Elliott Abrams, the council’s Middle East director, to draft U.S. endorsement of Israel’s Gaza Strip withdrawal, rejecting the Palestinian demand for a refugee “right of return” to their former homes in Israel and supporting some Israeli claims to the West Bank.

Analysts say Rice’s appointment is likely to change how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be tackled in the next Bush administration. As new Palestinian leaders emerge, Bush is likely to look for Rice and the State Department to play a leading role in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together and setting the stage for renewed peace talks.

But Rice also will have to change her focus from working for a constituency of one person to overseeing a large bureaucracy, and mending fences between the government’s internationalist foreign policy entity and an administration that often has ignored the State Department’s advice.

Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, who announced his resignation Monday, November 19, was seen in Foggy Bottom as a man advocating on the Foreign Service’s behalf. Inside the building, he was said to wear almost as a badge of honor the fact that he was not in line with the administration’s foreign policy hawks.

But many believe that by the end of his tenure Powell had been relegated to a more minor role, presenting a more appealing face to the Arabs and Europeans while the White House and Pentagon orchestrated a Middle East policy that often angered those same circles.

“I think, at a certain point, he gave up,” said David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I tend to think that if he wasn’t content, he was resigned to the idea that the U.S.-Israeli relationship was going to be driven by the White House.”

State Department officials long have advocated a more “even-handed” approach to Middle East peacemaking. They have sought international engagement and have been tougher on Israel than has the rest of the administration, criticizing steps such as the assassination of Palestinian terrorist leaders, which sometimes have caused civilian casualties.

The department also has been more hesitant to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plans to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and erect a security barrier along Israel’s West Bank border.

Powell at times endorsed those criticisms, but it was unclear whether he truly agreed with them or was merely representing his organization.

“It was clear he came from an internationalist school of diplomacy,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now. “He saw the value of working in international law to try and solve problems multilaterally.”

Rice is considered less likely to follow that course. U.S. Jewish officials hope her appointment will bring consistency to foreign policy, minimizing concerns they had over the past four years of divergent policy declarations from the White House and State Department.

“We can’t have a divided foreign policy,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “You have to have a clear foreign policy, and hopefully Dr. Rice will have the authority to create a consistent policy.”