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Should US Be More Involved in Mideast Conflict?

President Bush says the United States remains involved in the Middle East conflict, but critics claim its role is minimal while violence intensifies.

Despite pleas for more U.S. involvement, President Bush says he will continue to exercise restraint in the Middle East. The United States, he insists, cannot end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The two parties must do that.

With that in mind, the United States has been cool to a Palestinian request for international monitors on the grounds that would simply put more people in harm's way. Israel, which opposes any intervening force, now allows its troops, if threatened, to shoot before they are fired on.

But former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk says Israelis and Palestinians are not capable of ending the violence by themselves. Writing in The New York Times, he suggested establishing a small team of monitors composed of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians who would try to preserve a cease-fire.

That might be acceptable to Israelis, says Steve Yetiv, professor of political science at Old Dominion University in Virginia and author of "America and the Persian Gulf". He believes the Bush Administration is too skittish about being drawn into the conflict. It should start offering some proposals. "I think a strategy needs to stay away from things that are totally unacceptable and try to look for those things where there may be an overlap in preferences that both sides might accept, even though they may accept them grudgingly," he said.

The U.S. hands-off policy works to the advantage of Israel, says Naseer Aruri, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts and author of several studies of the Middle East. Thanks in large part to all the U.S. weaponry it has received, Israel is the far greater military power, says Mr. Aruri, and thus master of the situation. "The Palestinians are under occupation. The United States is not really seeing this as an occupation, but rather it is looking at it as a confrontation between two armies, and that is not the case," he says.

This imbalance is recognized by most of the rest of the world, if not by the United States, says Mr. Aruri. In his opinion, the United States is now seen as an accomplice of Israel and is becoming dangerously isolated. "It is standing against the global consensus to send some sort of protective international force, despite the call for such protection by many people in world civil society and international organizations," said Mr. Aruri. "The United States actually takes the position, 'no, we cannot internationalize the conflict'."

That is the trouble with international opinion, says Professor Yetiv. It clearly sides with the Palestinians and is prejudiced against Israel. "The international community, from Israel's perspective, is interested much more in what the Arab world can bring it than what Israel can bring it. So Israel is very reluctant to have any internationalization of the question. Frankly, it just does not trust the greater international community," he said.

As an illustration of hardening international opinion, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told Mr. Sharon that while he welcomes growing ties with Israel, it should make more of an effort to end the conflict. Otherwise, Turkish-Israeli relations will suffer.