Middle East Tug-of-War For Bush Administration Affections

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Middle Eastern players appeared on Wednesday to be in a tug-of-war for Washington's sentiments over the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel believes it has found a "listening ear" in President Bush, an Israeli official said on Wednesday while a Palestinian official charged that Bush sanctioned an Israeli incursion into Palestinian Authority controlled Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was due in to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on his way home from talks in Washington Wednesday, his office said as Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip foiled two attempted terror attacks.

Sharon, who is expected back in Israel early Thursday morning, met with President Bush for the sixth time in 15 months and other administration officials over the situation in the Middle East.

"We wanted to present our own perspective at the highest level in order that it would be taken into consideration before the expected announcement [on U.S. Middle East policy," said the Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We found in the U.S. a listening ear," the official said. "I think that the American President expressed sympathy with the people of Israel... especially on the subject of terrorism. Now we're waiting to see what will be the outcome," he added.

Bush and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held a two-day meeting at Camp David prior to Sharon's visit. It will be followed later this week by a meeting in Washington between Bush and the Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Sharon made it clear to Bush that Israel would not engage in talks with the Palestinians as long as terrorism continued. He also said that Israel would not deal any longer with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

The prime minister has indicated that he would not agree to the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state, but would rather see it emerge as the outcome of a long-term interim agreement.

Following his earlier meeting with Mubarak, Bush said he was not yet ready to set a timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Bush also backed Israel's right to defend itself.

But the Saudis, as well as the Egyptians, want Bush to make a commitment on when a Palestinian state will be created.

An unnamed Saudi official was quoted as saying that the prince's previously unannounced trip to Washington was aimed at countering Sharon's visit and prodding Bush to establish a Palestinian state.

Two Israeli diplomats have reportedly stayed behind in Washington in order to monitor the outcome of talks between the president and the Saudi foreign minister.

In a statement, that appeared to highlight the differences of opinion in the administration and the international pressure on Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted in an interview published in the London-based Arabic language daily al-Hayat on Wednesday saying that Bush favored the establishment of a "temporary state" for the Palestinians.

"The president has not retreated from his goal, which is the setting up of a Palestinian state called Palestine," the paper quoted Powell as saying in the undated interview.

In a press conference on Tuesday Powell said that Bush would "make known to the American people and to the world and to, especially, the people in the region, his vision of how to move forward ... in the not-too-distant future."

Meanwhile, Israeli tanks kept Arafat penned in his Ramallah office compound for the third straight day on Wednesday, as terror attacks and attempted attacks continued.

In a television interview, Palestinian Information and Culture Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the PA had indications that the U.S. president had given Sharon the go-ahead to continue his siege in Ramallah. Abed Rabbo charged that the siege would lead to the eventual overthrow of the PA.

Powell said that he believed the current incursion would not last too long.

During their sweep of the city, Israeli troops discovered an explosives laboratory in a building of Arafat's Force 17 elite guard in the center of Ramallah on Tuesday. Ten "powerful explosive charges" were discovered in various stages of production, the army spokesman said.

Israeli security forces arrested the head of Islamic Jihad in Ramallah as well as 30 Palestinians linked to various groups in the city. They also discovered two car bombs rigged with "tens of kilograms" of explosives, ready to be used in terror attacks.

The Israeli army thwarted two attempted terror attacks in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

A car packed with more than 300 pounds of explosives and two mortar shells was discovered near the northern Gaza Strip settlement of Elei Sinai, the army spokesman said in a statement. It was detonated in a controlled explosion.

Earlier on Wednesday, four armed Palestinians were killed when an Israeli tank fired on a group of seven terrorists near the settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip, the army said. Two others were wounded and the seventh escaped.

Hadar Hershkowitz, 15, was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Herzliya near Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening. At least eight other people were wounded in the attack.

The PA condemned the suicide attack in a statement because, it said, it gives Israel the "alleged excuses to attack our civilians, and to continue its aggression under the international suspicious silence."

Earlier on Tuesday, an Israeli policeman was stabbed in the neck and seriously wounded in Jerusalem. Three Israeli teens were also wounded in a bomb explosion as they were picking cherries in an orchard outside of Hebron.

A nine-year-old Palestinian boy was also killed in unclear circumstances reportedly by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

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