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December 07, 2002

Bush names Iran-Contra figure his Mideast chief
Abrams' rise thrills Israel's supporters

This appontment sends a signal that is loud and clear to Israeli supporters.
Washington -- Elliott Abrams, a pugnacious conservative and passionate advocate of Israel, is no stranger to Washington's policy wars.

But Abrams' selection this week as President Bush's director of Middle Eastern affairs at the White House plunged him into one of the sharpest disputes in the nation's capital -- the one within the administration over how to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Abrams' appointment thrilled those who had criticized the administration for being too tough on Israel and too deferential to the Palestinians. But it dismayed those, especially at the State Department, who want Israel to ease its crackdown in the West Bank and Gaza.

An administration official said that Abrams' ascension has created "serious consternation" at the State Department. It is seen there, he said, as likely to impede the efforts of Secretary of State Colin Powell to work with European nations to press Israel and the Palestinians to adopt a staged timetable leading to creation of a Palestinian state in three years.

The timetable, known as a road map, has been criticized by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, though he endorsed it in principle this week. Supporters of Israel in Congress, who have also criticized the road map approach, welcomed the appointment of Abrams'.

"There are two foreign policy teams in this administration on a lot of issues," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who went to Harvard with Abrams in the 1960s. "Clearly Elliott is coming out of the hard-line team. But that is where Bush's heart is."