Ten seconds that shook the Middle East

Arabs fear Israeli hold on Clinton's new team
High among President Bill Clinton's New Year resolutions will be to do all in his power to forge a lasting peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. However, two recent appointments he has made to top jobs in his administration have only made the challenge more daunting.

Madeleine Albright, the President's designated Secretary of State, and Rahm Emanuel, who replaces George Steph-anopoulos as senior White House adviser, will only encourage the perception of the Palestinians and the Arab world that America cannot be trusted to play honest broker in the Middle Eastern conflict.

Given the huge distrust that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu generates among Arabs, America's mediating role as negotiations evolve beyond the Hebron deal towards "final status" talks will become more critical than ever.

President Clinton will be seeking to press home the advantage by helping Israel rebuild bridges with its Arab neighbours, notably Egypt and Jordan. He would also like to add Syria to the peace equation Syria, as Israel's all-important security concerns cannot be met with Syrian co-operation

The prospects of Ms Albright faring any better than the outgoing Warren Christopher at persuading Syria to do business with Mr Netanyahu, are not good. It is not only a question of style, although temperamentally Ms Albright is to Mr Christopher as Lady Thatcher was to Sir Geoffrey Howe. More to the point, Ms Albright's record as US ambassador to the United Nations offered evidence once more of America's special relationship with Israel.

Mr Emanuel remains for now a relatively unknown quantity. But as his fame spreads, the news will also reach the Arab world that the middle name of President Clinton's new eminence grise is Israel.

Rahm Israel Emanuel's father fought with the Israeli underground in the war for Israeli nationhood. Mr Emanuel senior named his three sons after Israeli heroes who died in that war. The Emanuel family was brought up in Chicago but summer holidays were always spent in the Jewish homeland. Rahm Emanuel was born in the US but kept Israeli dual citizenship until he was 18. During the Gulf War he displayed his allegiance to the land of his father when he volunteered to serve in the Israeli army. He spent two-and-a-half weeks at a military base near the Lebanese border.

It was events at the Lebanese border eight months ago which revealed to Arab leaders the extent of Ms Albright's commitment to the Israeli cause. She argued vehemently against a UN decision to publish a human- rights report heavily critical of the Israeli artillery bombardment of Qana, in southern Lebanon, which killed more than 100 Palestinian refugees. Ms Albright said publication of the report would damage American peace efforts.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali said in an interview in November that colleagues at the UN had warned him at the time that his decision to overrule Ms Albright's request not to publish the report would cost him his job as UN Secretary-General.

In an article published in yesterday's New York Times Mr Boutros-Ghali, who bade his final farewell to the UN yesterday, said Ms Albright was well aware of the difficulties she would encounter in persuading the Arab world of her "bona fides".

Mr Boutros-Ghali was at a dinner two weeks ago attended by Ms Albright. It was a tense encounter, for only days earlier she had succeeded in her crusade to dash his hopes of a second term as Secretary-General. "What went wrong?" he asked her. "Why this campaign against me for six months?"

According to Mr Boutros-Ghali, she she fobbed him off an "official interpretation" and then proceeded to ask him for help in the new challenges she would face after her promotion to Secretary of State.

"She asked me to help her in relations with the Arabs," said Mr Boutros- Ghali, an Egyptian veteran of Middle Eastern diplomacy. "She made the point that she knew because she was against my re-election that the Arab world was not happy."