Thu, 08 May 2003

Muslim nations still wary of peace `road map': Envoy

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The United States ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce said his country had found it difficult to convince Indonesia and other Muslim countries that the recently unveiled "road map" for Palestinian-Israeli peace was a sincere effort by Washington to settle the crisis in the Middle East.

Boyce said on Wednesday that the strong preconceptions that Indonesians held, particularly of the U.S. as a staunch supporter of Israel, had hindered the objectivity of many here in appraising the peace plan.

"Maybe it's just a perception that the U.S. and Israel are so close ... I do not think that the perception that we are indifferent to the Palestinian plight is correct," he said in a press conference here on Wednesday.

He emphasized that Washington had similar questions regarding the credibility of Arab countries and other Muslim nations.

"The perception is that we continue to have a double standard (on the Middle East issue)," Boyce remarked.

Washington unveiled the road map on April 30 just after it declared victory in Iraq, another issue that had put Muslim countries and the U.S. at odds.

The peace plan calls for several actions to be taken by both sides in supporting the proposal of the "quartet" -- U.S., Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- for Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace by 2005.

The road map calls for Israel to immediately freeze all settlement growth and for the Palestinians to cease all attacks and to end all incitements to violence.

Many countries, especially Muslim nations, have received the road map with pessimism, questioning Washington's seriousness in applying the road map and pressing Israel to abide by the plan.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, has officially welcomed the plan but tempered its enthusiasm by saying it would require full compliance and by all parties to prove that the U.S. was not using double standards.

Muslim communities around the globe have always been irked by Washington's support of Israel, especially with its unwillingness to punish or sanction Israel for wrongdoings -- perceived or real.

Boyce stressed that Washington had never forsaken the historical relations between the U.S. and Israel and that certain communities in the U.S. would always defend Israel unconditionally.

"Therefore, there are limits to how far we can pressure their government ... and its policies," Boyce remarked.

He went on to add that as two democratic countries it would be inappropriate for Washington to impinge upon Israel's sovereignty.

"This (the road map) is a very sincere U.S. vision of the two states living side by side in peace ... with the process that officially will end in 2005," the ambassador said.