GQ magazine recently published a list of what it judged the 50 most powerful people in Washington, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice topped the list. GQ claims she has emerged as a check on Vice President Cheney's aggressive impulses and, because she has President Bush's confidence, is steering foreign policy along a more diplomatic path.
So says GQ. But what would a men's fashion magazine know about power in Washington? The list is as much an attention-getting gimmick as serious politics, concentrating on the obvious without much regard for the real power of quiet manipulators, and it therefore gives no ranking at all to the man who is unquestionably the most powerful behind-the-scenes mover and shaker on Israeli policy in Washington today. Elliott Abrams, an influential neocon and pro-Israel lobbyist par excellence, has been the principal Middle East adviser on the National Security Council staff throughout most of the Bush administration. Whatever Rice's position, she holds little sway over Abrams' agenda on Israel-Palestine and many other Middle East issues.
Working with Cheney and his adviser David Wurmser, another zealous Israel supporter, Abrams fully backed Israel's war against Hizbullah in Lebanon last year. This year he has been a key figure behind the fighting going on since May at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, in a hare-brained scheme to arm extremist Sunni militias in order to weaken Shia Hizbullah and undermine Iran and Syria. The scheme, now going awry, was undertaken in cooperation with Saudi and right-wing Lebanese Christian elements, and with implicit Israeli approval. Abrams is also said to be a leading advocate of attacking Iran and has been pushing Israel to attack Syria. He was part of the neocon group that designed the disastrous Iraq war.
But it is in the arena of Israel-Palestine policy that Abrams has done the most damage. His latest foray has been into Palestinian politics, where, calling for a "hard coup," he engineered the Hamas-Fatah split that erupted into fighting in Gaza in June and has resulted in cutting Gaza and its almost 1.5 million inhabitants adrift with virtually no international aid and no way in or out.
Long an outspoken opponent of any peace process requiring Israeli territorial concessions, Abrams has worked from his official position to undermine every peace effort, including the Roadmap and Rice's own initiatives. He has cooperated with Israeli strategists to make it appear that Israel is always making "painful concessions," as on the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, while actually giving Israel the breathing space to proceed with consolidation of its occupation through continued settlement-building and construction of the separation wall. By thus cooperating with Israel to fine tune its occupation practices, Abrams has acted as an Israeli partner rather than a US policymaker.
Abrams has a history of covert manipulation; he was convicted of lying to Congress about US activities in Central America during the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal and was later pardoned by George H. W. Bush in 1992. He also has a history of advocacy for Israel. The son-in-law of neocon original Norman Podhoretz, he authored a book in 1997 about American Jews in which he identified Israel as "the essence of their lives as Jews."
Abrams faces no apparent restraints and no meaningful opposition from Rice in his attempts to be Israel's facilitator and co-conspirator on Middle East issues – all without GQ magazine or most other Washington observers even noticing.
_Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years.