WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is putting its hopes on moderate Arab leaders to provide the pressure to end growing violence in the Middle East.
So far, however, the Arabs are not falling into line with the U.S. plan: They're insisting that American officials talk with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat directly, not go around him as President Bush wants.
And they're demanding, sometimes in blunt language, that the United States do more to rein in Israel. Otherwise, they warn of devastating consequences both for their moderate regimes and the United States.
``There has been rising anger and frustration toward Israel,'' Jordan's King Abdullah II said in a CBS interview aired Monday, explaining why thousands of people have taken their protests to the streets in his country.
``Unfortunately, also, the anger is being leveled at the United States,'' Abdullah said ahead of his meeting this week with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The disconnect between what the United States wants its Arab allies to do and what they want America to do was on startling display Monday during the first stop of Powell's peacemaking trip to the region.
Turning to the secretary of state at a public photo opportunity, King Mohammed VI of Morocco said bluntly: ``Don't you think it was more important to go to Jerusalem first?'' in order to pressure Israel to withdraw.
Powell responded that he wanted to go to Spain to meet with European ministers before heading to Jerusalem. He is meeting Tuesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, another key moderate, before going to Spain and then returning Thursday to the Middle East to meet with Jordan's Abdullah. Powell is to reach Israel on Friday.
Like Mohammed, Abdullah is among a new generation of Western-educated rulers, friends of the United States, with stated goals of progressive modernization.
They and other moderates like Mubarak are not falling in with the U.S. plans because their own long-term stability is threatened by the protests that have erupted since the Israeli military moved into the West Bank to thwart suicide attacks, analysts say.
The protests have grown increasingly militant regionwide, even in moderate countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain, which the United States depends on for political and military cooperation.
The foundations of the peace efforts are threatened, Jordan's king said. He noted that Israel's action ``makes it difficult for us who want peace and stability to have the moral authority to be able to work this problem out.''
The Israelis ``are losing friends, moderate friends they have in the Middle East, in particular in Jordan,'' the king warned.
None of the Arab rulers face an immediate threat of being overthrown, said James Lindsay of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The angrier their citizens become at Israel, however, and the more radicalized their young people become, the more improbable it is those countries will support American peace efforts.
``The longer this thing goes on, the harder it's going to be for those countries to side with us,'' Lindsay said. ``That's just the political reality.''
Nevertheless, Bush has pinned his peacemaking plans on bypassing what he views as an untrustworthy Arafat to try to strike a peace deal between Israel and the moderate Arabs, who then would force it on the Palestinians, U.S. officials say.
Jordan's Abdullah said the Israeli incursion has ``not only made (Arafat) into a hero, but made him into a saint. I think you have to negotiate with Arafat. ... Anybody else would be unacceptable.''
Arafat, who for three decades led the Palestine Liberation Organization in a worldwide campaign against Israel, is recognized by the 22-member Arab League as the sole spokesman for the Palestinians. Its last declaration of that was Saturday in Cairo, Egypt, where member foreign ministers declared that Arafat is the ``legitimate and only representative of the Palestinian people.''
Before Powell left Sunday, he expressed misgivings similar to Abdullah's that the Israeli offensive could wipe out years of work toward improving ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors, notably Jordan and Egypt.
In fresh signs of that, at least 4,000 Palestinians marched through the dusty streets of Jordan's Baqaa refugee camp on Monday shouting for Osama bin Laden, wanted for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, to target Israel's largest city.
``Beloved bin Laden, strike Tel Aviv!'' the crowd roared.
``We're starting to see those consequences, and how it affects Israel's long-term relationship with its neighbors, and our long-term relationship with its neighbors,'' Powell said.