Powell, Israel and the pro-Israel community

Secretary Colin Powell with Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, at the Mayflower Hotel

In Colin Powell, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir found the only senior national security official who was sympathetic to Israel’s reluctance to hold fire in the face of Iraqi Scud missile attacks on the country. The senior Bush and Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, were baffled that Israel did not want to rely on American protection.

Powell, as a military officer, understood Shamir’s concern that staying out would lower Israel’s deterrence, and his sympathetic ear helped bring Shamir around toward complying with the Bush administration’s demand that Israel lay low throughout the conflict.

Powell was consistently concerned about Jewish sensibilities; heading a volunteerism initiative under President Bill Clinton, he formally apologized to the Jewish community after the commission’s first summit was held on Passover.

The pro-Israel community, mindful of his history, welcomed his ascension to secretary of state under the younger Bush, a development that accelerated talk that Powell would eventually run for president as a Republican.

There were tensions, however, as Powell at times clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over Israel’s actions during the Second Intifada.

Powell was the first Bush administration official — indeed the first U.S. official — to say, in 2001, that the likely outcome of peace talks would be a Palestinian state. The development stunned the pro-Israel community, which had expected the second Bush administration to step back from the intensive Middle East peace brokering that had characterized the Clinton and first Bush administrations.

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