What envoy's removal means to peace pact

US temporarily called back its diplomat to Israel Thursday and ordered security probe.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have hit another bump in the road, but it's one that will cause more trouble for the US State Department than for negotiators here, analysts say.

The department has launched a probe into the actions of Ambassador Martin Indyk, a US top negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in the latest example of ongoing security problems in the department.

Mr. Indyk was suspended Thursday as investigators began looking into allegations that he has mishandled classified information for at least five years. US officials were quick to stress that there was no indication of espionage or that any American intelligence was compromised, saying that the issue was computer security. Indyk will not be allowed to travel during the investigation, halting his work on the peace process, but analysts said it would make little difference.

"I doubt it will make any real dent," says Efraim Inbar, director of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, outside Tel Aviv. "The US State Department has several extremely seasoned persons who have spent time on the peace process and know it very intimately."

Indyk, a London-born Australian, became an American citizen in 1993, just before President Clinton made him the National Security Council's top Mideast expert. His son attends high school in Israel, and his wife, Jill, is here as well. He had worked for Australian intelligence services before coming to the US.

On both sides of the peace process, there are people pleased he will no longer be involved. Indyk angered conservative Israelis with comments he made Sept. 14 while accepting an honorary doctorate from Jerusalem's Hebrew Union College. In his acceptance speech, Indyk said Jerusalem "is not, and cannot be, the exclusive preserve of one religion."

US officials subsequently downplayed Indyk's remarks, but "his presence and his remarks were a source of irritation to some in Israel," Mr. Inbar says.

Among Palestinians, Indyk, who is Jewish, was known as one of the "American Jewish rabbis in the State Department, because [some officials] are so biased toward Israel," says Madhi Abdul-Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.

That said, Mr. Adbul-Hadi is among many Palestinian and Israeli analysts here who reject the charge by Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman that the impetus behind the investigation is the fact that Mr. Indyk is a Jew.

"It's not because he's Jewish," says Abdul-Hadi, striking a note echoed by several observers, "but because there's a strong rule of law in America and no one is above it. There is a strong system in Washington, a law to be enforced and no one is excluded. It's a strong message to everyone everywhere - especially to people in this region - that you can't ignore democracy."

Israeli political analyst Hemi Shalev credits the investigation to the "compulsive zeal for regulations, decrees, protocols, and any kind of instructions" in the US. But there was also widespread acknowledgment that the US State Department has been under pressure to improve security after a series of embarrassing security mishaps.

Last spring Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ordered security officials to draft a $300 million plan to improve security at the State Department after an eavesdropping device was found in a conference room and a laptop with classified material disappeared from a secure area. Then there was the case of Wen Ho Lee, who was cleared of 58 out of 59 counts of mishandling nuclear secrets last month, and the ongoing investigation into former CIA Director John Deutsch's computer security violations.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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