Fifty-three former US diplomats today accuse the White House of sacrificing America's credibility in the Arab world - and the safety of its diplomats and soldiers - because of the Bush administration's support for the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
The strongly worded rebuke, which paid tribute to last week's broadside from more than 50 former British diplomats against the government's policy in Iraq, marked a rare public display of dissent for state department personnel.
By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the US is not an even-handed peace partner. You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position.
Its central charge that the Bush administration is unfairly tilted towards Mr Sharon arrives at a time when Washington's strategy in the Middle East is in tatters. George Bush has invested heavily in Mr Sharon's proposal for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and gone a step further by endorsing a continued Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.
The overwhelming rejection of the proposal by Likud voters on Sunday was seen in Washington yesterday as a direct snub to Mr Bush. But the White House reaffirmed its support for Mr Sharon.
Yesterday he said he would modify his disengagement plan but gave no details, while earlier members of his government said the setback was temporary, and the withdrawal from Gaza would go ahead. "There is no doubt disengagement is inevitable and unstoppable," the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said. "The alternative is more murder, terrorism and attacks without any wise answer for what 7,500 Jewish [settlers] are doing among 1.2 million Palestinians [in Gaza]."
Mr Sharon's troubles are due for further scrutiny at a meeting in New York today of the sponsors of the peace road map - the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations. But there is no doubt the rebuff from Likud will be seen as an embarrassment to Washington, one that is further deepened by the critique from an assembly of US government personnel with decades of experience.
The last broadside from American diplomats was delivered during the Vietnam war era. It is particularly unusual for US government personnel to criticize policy on Israel.
Unlike the British version, which was scathing of Mr Blair's alliance with Washington in Iraq as well as Israel and the Palestinians, the American diplomats' critique was wholly focused on Middle East policy.
It said Washington had overthrown decades of US diplomatic tradition last month when Mr Bush endorsed a plan for Gaza with no Palestinian involvement. "By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the US is not an even-handed peace partner. You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position," the letter says.
It goes on to accuse the Bush administration of "unabashed support" for Israel's strategy of assassinating Palestinian leaders and military operatives, and urges Washington to change course. "A return to the time-honored American tradition of fairness will turn the present tide of ill will in Europe and the Middle East - even in Iraq," it adds.
The letter, which was initiated by a former ambassador to Qatar, Andrew Killgore, was endorsed mainly by those who had served for years in Arab countries. Supporters include the former ambassadors to India, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. The petition was also endorsed by two recent rebels against the Bush administration policy: John Brady Kiesling, who resigned last year in protest against the war, and Greg Thielmann, an intelligence analyst who accused Washington of distorting information on Iraqi weapons programs.
But their numbers do not include former administration officials who have been most closely associated with peacemaking efforts.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
The full text of a letter from some 50 retired US diplomats urging President Bush to reverse his Middle East policy.
Dear Mr President:
We former US diplomats applaud our 52 British colleagues who recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair criticising his Middle East policy and calling on Britain to exert more influence over the United States.
As retired foreign service officers we care deeply about our nation's foreign policy and US credibility in the world.
We also are deeply concerned by your April 14 endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan to reject the rights of three million Palestinians, to deny the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and to retain five large illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.
This plan defies UN Security Council resolutions calling for Israel's return of occupied territories.
It ignores international laws declaring Israeli settlements illegal.
It flouts UN Resolution 194, passed in 1948, which affirms the right of refugees to return to their homes or receive compensation for the loss of their property and assistance in resettling in a host country should they choose to do so.
And it undermines the Road Map for peace drawn up by the Quartet, including the US. Finally, it reverses longstanding American policy in the Middle East.
Your meeting with Sharon followed a series of intensive negotiating sessions between Israelis and Americans, but which left out Palestinians.
In fact, you and Prime Minister Sharon consistently have excluded Palestinians from peace negotiations.
Former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo voiced the overwhelming reaction of people around the world when he said: "I believe President Bush declared the death of the peace process today".
By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the United States is not an even-handed peace partner.
You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position.
Your unqualified support of Sharon's extra-judicial assassinations, Israel's Berlin Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories, and now your endorsement of Sharon's unilateral plan are costing our country its credibility, prestige and friends.
It is not too late to reassert American principles of justice and fairness in our relations with all the peoples of the Middle East.
Support negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, with the United States serving as a truly honest broker.
A return to the time-honored American tradition of fairness will reverse the present tide of ill will in Europe and the Middle East - even in Iraq.
Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of the problems in the Middle East, the entire region - and the world - will rejoice along with Israelis and Palestinians when the killing stops and peace is attained.
Andrew I Killgore, Ambassador to Qatar, 1977-1980
Richard H Curtiss, former chief inspector, US Information Agency
Colbert C Held, Retired FSO and author
Thomas J Carolan, Counsel General Istanbul, '88-'92
C Edward Bernier, Counselor of Embassy, Information and Culture, Islamabad, Pakistan
Donald A Kruse, American Consul in Jerusalem
Ambassador Edward L Peck, former Chief of Mission in Iraq and Mauritania
John Powell, Admin Counselor in Beirut, '75-'76
John Gunther Dean, last position held US Ambassador to India
Greg Thielmann, Director, Office for Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, Bureau of Intelligence and Research
James Akins, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Talcott Seeyle, Ambassador to Syria
Eugene Bird, Counselor of Embassy in Saudi Arabia
Richard H Nolte, Ambassador to Egypt
Ray Close, Chief of Station Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 1971-1979
Shirl McArthur, Commercial Attache, Bangkok