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US-Palestinian Diplomatic Dispute Looms Over Ambassador's Comments - 2003-07-09

A diplomatic dispute is looming over comments reportedly made by the American ambassador to Israel about the new Palestinian prime minister. The Palestinians are demanding an explanation; the U.S. Embassy says the ambassador was misquoted.

Palestinian sources say that the Palestinian Authority has lodged a protest with Washington and is asking for an explanation for remarks allegedly made Monday by U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted the ambassador as saying that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was a relatively weak man who tended to run away from problems.

The ambassador was speaking to a group of rabbis and lay leaders in Jerusalem in what was supposed to have been an off-the-record briefing. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv says the ambassador was misquoted and never said that Mahmoud Abbas was a weak leader.

The United States has been a strong supporter of Prime Minister Abbas and has hailed him as a fresh hope for the Palestinians in the search for peace and an independent state. U.S. officials have said Mr. Abbas is a man they and Israel can deal with in trying to implement the road map to peace. But the Palestinian prime minister has come under increasing criticism from within his own Fatah political faction for his handling of negotiations with Israel. Many Palestinians feel that Mr. Abbas has caved in to American and Israeli pressure and has gotten little or nothing in return.

Reports about what Ambassador Kurtzer allegedly said Monday have made headlines in Israeli newspapers. The allegations come at a time when the United States has again thrown its support behind the Palestinian prime minister in an effort to counter criticism against him and to shore up efforts to move ahead with peace negotiations.