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Arab-Americans lose faith in Bush


ADRIAN, Mich. -- There were several reasons why American Muslims voted for George W. Bush in November. Chief among them was the perception that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore were too heavily invested with the Israeli lobby to adopt a balanced approach to the Palestinian issue.

American Muslims felt that Mr. Bush would not only assume a more balanced attitude toward Palestinians but would also reduce the colonization of the peace process by American Jews.

They felt that since all the important foreign policy positions were held by American Jews, some of whom, like the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, had a long history of lobbying for Israel, it was impossible to expect Democrats to be evenhanded toward Palestine. American Muslims believe that American evenhandedness is necessary for a fair and sustainable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But recent comments made by Mr. Bush to the American Jewish Committee suggest that perhaps American Muslims' faith in the president might be misplaced. In his speech to the group May 4, Mr. Bush declared, "My administration will be steadfast in supporting Israel against terrorism and violence and in seeking the peace for which all Israelis pray.

"A top foreign policy priority of my administration is the safety and security of Israel," he added for good measure.

Such words of assurance by Mr. Bush to American Jews sound very similar to the ones he uttered to American Muslims. The difference is that promises to Muslims were made before the election and promises to American Jews are being made after the election. American Muslims find this Bush posturing very difficult to understand or accept given that 78 percent of American Muslims voted for Mr. Bush whereas less than 20 percent of American Jews did so.

Mr. Bush has already played host to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and his aides have made it clear that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is not welcome in Washington. Nowadays the White House does not acknowledge letters written by prominent American Muslim organizations, including those who endorsed Mr. Bush in his presidential campaign.

Things have changed, but not in the way American Muslims had hoped. The influence of the Israeli lobby on the White House seems to have diminished. But American Muslims and Palestinians have lost access to the president. During Mr. Clinton's presidency, American Muslim organizations were welcome in the White House and Mr. Arafat had accumulated an enviable amount of frequent flyer miles from his trips to Washington.

American Muslims are not happy with the changes in U.S. Middle East policy, either. The new role of the United States as a detached facilitator of peace rather than a deeply engaged negotiator of peace has not paid dividends.

The American hands-off approach has meant that Palestinians have no recourse but to be at the mercy of the Israeli army. As settlements grow and Palestinian frustration rises, violence and pain continue unabated. While the administration maintains that violence in Israel is largely the fault of Palestinians and Mr. Arafat's unwillingness to stop it, most victims are Palestinian.

Prime Minister Sharon has interpreted the hands-off approach as license to use excessive violence to break the Palestinian spirit. Tanks and helicopter gun ships are used routinely. He has also escalated building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Washington has yet to speak against it.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent suggestion to subsidize the rising cost of Israeli military operations has also shocked American Muslims. Not only was the United States not demanding a stoppage in military operations, it was actually contemplating financing it.

For the United States to be able to play the peace catalyst it must enjoy the trust and confidence of all parties involved. Mr. Bush has succeeded in losing the trust and confidence of American Muslims who supported him. They have found that he does not keep his promises and does not care for Palestinian suffering.

Muqtedar Khan is the director of international studies at Adrian College in Michigan. He is on the board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists.

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