ICEJ NEWS - 11/20/2001
In a highly-anticipated and carefully balanced foreign policy speech on the Israeli-Arab conflict on Monday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell sought to re-assert the American role in Middle East peace-making, reiterating the new Bush Administration line that it envisions a Palestinian state down the road, but stressing the first order of business is for the Palestinian Authority to stamp out terror, violence and incitement against Israel.
Powell's address, delivered at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, tried to remove any doubts - expressed by Arab and European members of the US-led anti-terror coalition - that Washington was ready to fully engage in Middle East diplomacy. Powell promised prolonged US engagement to first secure a "durable" Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and then move to final-status talks that would eventually give birth to a state of Palestine alongside Israel.
In the lead up to his address, media reports indicated Powell might break new ground in insisting that Israel skip a seven day period of quiet demanded by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before launching into the phased stages of the Mitchell report, as well as accept an international monitoring force to police a ceasefire. Instead, the speech was a compilation of statements made since US President George W. Bush and his foreign policy team began grappling earlier this year with how to end the Palestinian intifada, with a conspicuous attempt to prod and lure both sides forward.
Powell's message again contained a reference to the US "vision" of a state of "Palestine" - a recent policy shift that the Bush Administration apparently has calculated is the best carrot to offer PLO chief Yasser Arafat at this time to entice him into ending the violent intifada. In another rhetorical first for an American government, Powell also spoke several times of the need to "end Israeli occupation."
Yet while these statements were aimed at appeasing the Palestinian side, Powell also took a tough line on what the PA must first do to secure their national aspirations. "Whatever the sources of Palestinian frustration and anger under occupation, the intifada is now mired in the quicksand of self-defeating violence and terror directed against Israel," he said. "Palestinians need to understand that however legitimate their claims, they cannot be heard, let alone be addressed, through violence... Terror and violence must stop, and stop now."
Powell called on the Palestinian leadership to "make a 100-percent effort" to end violence and terror, and said "they must be held to account when they do not." On the issue of official PA incitement against Israel, Powell asserted, "No one can claim a commitment to peace while feeding a culture of hatred that can only produce a culture of violence. The incitement must stop."
He also said that Palestinians must eliminate any doubt once and for all that they accept the legitimacy of Israel as "a Jewish state... They must make clear that their objective is a Palestinian state alongside Israel, not in place of Israel, and which takes full account of Israel's security needs," Powell stated, adding that the Arab world must also make "unmistakably clear" its acceptance of Israel and its commitment to a negotiated settlement.
In turn, Powell urged Israel to halt settlement activity, claiming its has undermined "chances for real peace and security... For the sake of Palestinians and Israelis alike, the occupation must end, and it can end only through negotiations," he said. "Israel must be willing to end its occupation, consistent with the principles embodied in Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and accept a viable Palestinian state."
Earlier, in an effort to soften up Israelis, Powell stressed that the US has an "ironclad commitment to Israel's security" and that the "two nations are bound forever together by common democratic values and traditions."
Powell made almost no reference to the failed Oslo peace process, Camp David summit or Clinton outline for peace of last year, choosing instead to harken back to his personal involvement in the 1991 Madrid Conference, when the US tried to exploit the opportunity afforded by the end of the Cold War and the allied victory over Iraq in the Gulf War to bring together Israel and the Arab parties around the peace table. He said that while the "hope created in Madrid has faded," it is possible "to capture the spirit of Madrid and create a renewed sense of hope and common purpose for the peoples of the Middle East."
Powell said the way forward has been mapped out in the Tenet ceasefire and the Mitchell report, accepted by both sides and endorsed by the international community. He promised, "We will do all we can to help the process along. We will push. We will prod. We will present ideas... But... at the end of the day it is the people in the region taking the risks and making the hard choices who must find the way ahead."
As an initial step, Powell is immediately dispatching two envoys to the region, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns and Powell's old army buddy and new special adviser, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. They are due to arrive in Israel this weekend, with Zinni's stated task being to "remain in the region" to help the sides "achieve a durable cease-fire along the lines of the Tenet plan."
"Get that cease-fire in place," Powell pledged, "and other things can start to happen. Without that cease-fire, we are still trapped in the quicksand of hatred."
Both Israeli and Palestinian officials were careful to exhibit a positive reaction to the Powell speech, with each promptly agreeing to form senior-level committees to work with Zinni on cease-fire arrangements and security cooperation.
Sharon praised Powell for what he termed a "constructive" speech, especially his backing of Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish state," and added that peace would ensure Jerusalem remains Israel's "eternal and undivided capital." Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres added that it was a "positive speech full of good will."
Israeli officials were also encouraged that the speech did not prescribe solutions to the thorny issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. An original version of Powell's speech reportedly had called for a "shared Jerusalem."
Senior PA officials emphasized the US call for an end to the "occupation" and support for a "viable Palestinian state," while also mixing in criticism of other American positions. Of particular note, the official PA media organs completely failed to report any of the US demands on Palestinian leaders.
One of the first items Zinni must deal with is the question of whether the US will continue to reluctantly endorse Sharon's request for seven days of complete quiet as a precursor to the Mitchell process. A top European Union delegation passed through Jerusalem this past weekend and leaned hard on Sharon to drop this pre-condition, but he firmly stood his ground. One indicator on where the US may be headed was Powell's call for a 100% effort by the PA to end the violence, which could be cited as sufficient reason to trigger the Mitchell time-clock.
One of the more telling lines of Powell's speech came towards the end. In a clear allusion to the Clinton presidency, Powell cautioned, "It will be a tragedy to sacrifice so many more potential presidents and prime ministers and peacemakers and poets to this cruel conflict. It is time--now it is past time--to end this terrible toll on the future." Many Middle East analysts have suggested that after US President Bill Clinton put so much personal effort and presidential prestige into the Oslo process, only to see it dashed by Arafat's intransigence, the Bush Administration has been nervous about getting burned as well.
What has made the Bush Administration change course at this particular time? Certainly, concerns about keeping Arab and European states in the anti-terror coalition have been a factor. US diplomatic sources also claim they have been receiving messages of late indicating that "Arafat's lieutenants" finally want to put an end to the violence. Indeed, persistent media reports have highlighted the fears of some PA officials that they are losing control of Palestinian areas to Islamic militants as the intifada drags on aimlessly.
But it remains to be seen whether Arafat and his underlings are prepared to risk a Palestinian civil war - the foreseeable price of complying with Powell's opening demand that they begin at once to stamp out terror.
ICEJ. Used with Permission.