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Mike Hanna: Shifting U.S. policies in Middle East

Mike Hanna in Jerusalem
Mike Hanna in Jerusalem  

(CNN) -- The Bush Administration is considering the recognition of a Palestinian state as it reviews its policies in the Middle East.

The move could have a dramatic impact on Arab support for an international coalition against terrorism.

CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna joined CNN with the following reaction:

MIKE HANNA: Sources in the State Department have told CNN that the State Department is reviewing U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly in relation to the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Among the moves being considered by the State Department, according to the sources, is recognition of the possibility of a Palestinian state.

This had been recognized by previous Democratic administrations, but this would be the first time that a Republican administration has accepted the concept of an independent Palestinian state coming into being in this region.

Here in Jerusalem and in Israel at present it is a holiday. There's been no formal response from the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. However, what we do know is that in the weeks since September 11, there has been a far greater degree of U.S. involvement in this region.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has been in consistent telephone contact with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The ongoing conflict in this region is seen by the United States as a major stumbling block to its attempts to forge an international coalition against terror and to have within that coalition Arab states.

Now, Arab states generally see the U.S. role in the Middle East as a supportive one, an overly supportive one for Israel. And this perception is a major stumbling block to U.S. efforts to form a broad- based coalition including Arab nations. So within recent weeks the United States has been making it very clear that it wants the leaders in this region to get back to the negotiating table. It has, we know from sources on both sides, put immense pressure both on Yasser Arafat and on Ariel Sharon to declare a cease-fire. That cease-fire is purportedly in place. It was agreed to last Wednesday (but it's) still not taking effect on the ground.

However, the stories that the sources are repeating within the U.S. State Department do indicate that this shifting U.S. policy, which we have defined on the ground in terms of U.S. diplomatic action, could become far more public and it could register a major shift in U.S. policy in this region.

CNN: The timing of this, of course, is crucial for the U.S. administration as it tries to build this coalition. I'm curious if there might be a bit of skepticism when talking to Arab leaders in the Arab world about this apparent shift given the events of September 11, and will that undermine the U.S. effort here?

HANNA: Well, once again, there may be a degree of skepticism. However, within the immediate region, Palestinian leaders have been advocating a greater U.S. role in enforcing a cease-fire within the last week. They had been advocating a greater U.S. role in bringing about negotiations. So for the immediate region, as far as Palestinians are concerned, such a step by the United States would be very significant and would be deeply welcomed and very likely, too, that the Arab world, the wider Arab world, though perhaps skeptical about the timing, would also welcome such a step, which would define a greater impartiality of the U.S. position in the region.

Now, the Arab world does perceive U.S. bias towards Israel and steps such as this -- in terms of bringing pressure to bear not only on the Palestinians to end the violence, but also on Israel to take concrete steps to end what the Arab world views as an illegal and aggressive occupation of Palestinian territories -- would be seen as imposing a greater degree of impartiality by the United States in the region and make any partnership or coalition with the United States more acceptable to the Arab world.


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