US asks for delay on Israel sanctions

THE US State Department yesterday urged the United Nations Security Council to postpone consideration of sanctions against Israel for exiling the Palestinians, and said it was pursuing a solution with Jerusalem.

Facing a possible stand-off with either Israel or the Arabs, it again insisted diplomacy rather than a fractious debate in the council was the best approach.

The Israeli Supreme Court decision on the deportees has come at a bad moment for the administration, still in disarray on a number of policies. But Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said yesterday: 'We just don't think it's time for a debate over things in the Security Council.' He said the US was pursuing bilateral talks with Israel on the deportees.

In the longer term, the peace talks are likely to go on. President Clinton will not want to be seen as the man who failed to take advantage of diplomatic advances under his predecessor.

The most successful diplomatic initiative of President Bush in his four years in office was to get the Middle East peace talks between Israel, Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians under way in 1991. The achievement won him no votes last November, and his alienation of part of Jewish opinion damaged him during the campaign.

Bill Clinton, and more especially Al Gore, were quick to promote themselves as more reliable friends of Israel. By one estimate, Jews contributed 60 per cent of all non-institutional campaign funds received by Mr Clinton, and 80 per cent of Jews voted for the Democrats. Neo-conservative Jewish pundits returned to the Democratic fold with some expectation that Mr Clinton's stance on the peace talks would be closer to the Israeli position than President Bush's.

After 3 November there were early rumours that the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) was opposed to Warren Christopher being appointed Secretary of State on the grounds that he was 'anti-Israel'. The evidence for this was that he had served under Jimmmy Carter, when Israel was pressured during the Camp David agreement.

In the event, Mr Christopher was appointed. Most key figures of the George Bush-James Baker Middle East policy kept their jobs, notably Edward Djerejian, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, and his deputy, Daniel Kurtzer. Dennis Ross, former head of policy planning, who had gone to the White House with Mr Baker in a doomed effort to revive Mr Bush's re-election campaign, returns to the State Department as a special consultant on Middle East peace talks for six months. Aaron David Miller, the policy planning officer responsible for the talks, stays where he is.

The biggest change is at the National Security Council where Martin Indyk, a former Aipac official, takes over from Richard Haas. Mr Indyk, recently head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank seen as close to Aipac, has been disinclined to pressure Israel in the same way as Mr Bush and Mr Baker.

The centre of gravity of policy towards the peace talks has been the State Department, not the NSC or White House. The most important change at the State Department is the appointment of Sam Lewis, former ambassador in Tel Aviv and once close to Menachem Begin, to head policy planning.

One forecast is that Washington will look for a deal with Syria, as Camp David marked a deal with Egypt. It has been an accepted nostrum of Middle East politics that there can be no deal with the Palestinians without Syria being party to it.