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Bush administration faces growing hostility in Mideast
WASHINGTON -- Egypt's president says Arabs hold a "hatred never equaled" toward America. Jordan's king abruptly postpones a visit to the White House. And those are among the United States' best friends in the Arab world.
The war in Iraq, and a shift on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, has left the Bush administration facing growing hostility and an estrangement from friends across the Middle East.
"There is enormous anger in the Arab world that needs to be dealt with," said Nail Al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
The White House minimized the problem Tuesday, saying President Bush did not feel snubbed by King Abdullah II's decision to leave the United States early and skip a planned meeting with Bush at the White House this week. Spokesman Scott McClellan said the meeting was merely postponed until May and chalked it up to "domestic issues" in Jordan.
That's probably right, said Jim Phillips, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "is under pressure, King Abdullah is under pressure," from their own citizens and groups in their countries angry at the United States, Phillips said. "They're using this not only against the U.S. but against Arab leaders allied with the U.S. -- which is why Mubarak and Abdullah are reflecting those pressures in different ways."
Mubarak and Abdullah "feel vulnerable," said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Maryland. "Every time they feel vulnerable they distance themselves from the U.S. ... Governments often do that for their own survival."
It's unclear whether the estrangement is temporary or longer-lasting. There already are signs that the United States may be considering some measures to reassure Arabs about its intentions on the Palestinians.
Secretary of State Colin Powell offered public reminders on Tuesday that the Bush administration was determined to launch a Palestinian state next year and that any decision to keep Israeli settlements on the West Bank as part of a final peace deal would require Palestinian consent.
Powell noted that Bush, when meeting last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, endorsed Sharon's move to evacuate Israeli settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank.
That, Powell said, was "something that people have asked for and wanted for a long time."
On Iraq, Powell said he hoped that as people see progress toward establishing security and democracy there, that "the difficulties we're having with Arab opinion toward the United States will change."
Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and director of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, said, "The question is how President Bush will balance what he has done for Israel in response to Arab complaints."
That will be on the agenda when Abdullah calls on Bush and when the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- the framers of the so-called road map for peacemaking -- convene next month, Indyk said in an interview.
The Bush administration probably will try to bridge the gap, agreed Telhami, because right now it needs Arab allies to help with its efforts in Iraq.
"The Bush administration finds itself vulnerable on the Iraq issue, needing a lot of international cooperation to succeed in Iraq unlike what was expected a year ago. And they need these governments," Telhami said. "They're going to have to find a way to work with them."
Jordan and Egypt are the only two of Israel's Arab neighbors to have a peace treaty with Israel. Yet people in both countries were enraged last week when Bush endorsed an Israeli proposal to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank but keep Jewish settlements on other West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians.
Suspicious of Bush's strong support for Israel and his endorsement of Sharon as a man of peace, the Arabs have not been dissuaded by Bush's support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said Sharon's initiative creates a historical opportunity for the Palestinians and the entire region, not only for Israel.
"Israel has always believed, and still does, in a solution to the conflict that will be achieved through meaningful negotiations without prejudice," he said.
But Mubarak told the French newspaper Le Monde that because of the war in Iraq and Washington's continued support of Israel, hatred of Americans in the Arab world had reached new heights.
"There exists today a hatred never equaled in the region," he told Le Monde.