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Israeli Leaders Take Diplomatic Battle to US

Wednesday, August 29, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon prepares for what should be a warm reception in Washington on Monday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres made an advance foray to New York on Thursday to head off Palestinian efforts at the UN to insert an armed observer force in Judea/Samaria and Gaza.

In his maiden voyage abroad, Sharon will inform the Bush Administration next week that PLO chief Yasser Arafat is a main source of instability in the Middle East through his encouragement and sponsorship of the prolonged wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence against Israel. Sharon will tell US President George W. Bush and other American officials that Arafat hopes to use terror to spread the conflict beyond Israel's borders and destabilize regional Arab regimes allied with the West.

On Monday, Sharon is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and CIA Director George Tenet. In the evening, he will address AIPAC's annual conference, and on Tuesday, he will meet with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House and congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. Sharon will then go to New York on Wednesday to meet with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and American Jewish leaders.

As Sharon's US tour looms, there are signs that the mood in Washington has turned decidedly in Israel's favor. The Bush administration has already indicated it agrees with Sharon's policy that peace talks should not resume until Arafat clearly orders Palestinians to stop firing and follows through with concrete steps to halt the violence and incitement. And former Israeli ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, a key foreign policy advisor to Sharon, says that Israel is hearing less and less from the Bush team about maintaining the retired Clinton's Administration's "even-handed" approach to end a "cycle of violence" for which both sides are held equally responsible.

After Arafat was welcomed in the Clinton White House fourteen times - more than any other foreign figure - Bush has passed a message to the PLO leader that he will not be invited to the Oval Office until he takes steps to restore calm, including issuing a public call in Arabic to end the violence.

Tenet is refusing to renew CIA security coordination with the Palestinians due to mounting evidence that Arafat is directing much of the violence. Tenet has informed Bush of Arafat's involvement in terrorist activity, according to Israeli press reports, and will share notes on the subject with Sharon.

The Israeli mission in Washington reported to Jerusalem that Powell was unimpressed with Arafat during his recent regional swing. And another senior Administration official was cited as saying the new US government considers Arafat an unreformed terrorist.

Before his arrival, Sharon is receiving a lot of support from the US Congress as well. Members of Congress are warning that the PA stands to lose US foreign aid and its diplomatic status in the US if Arafat does not change his behavior.

Sharon, however, will likely face some tough questions about Israel's stern economic sanctions against the Palestinians. He plans to respond by offering to ease conditions on ordinary Palestinians, while keeping the pressure on PA leaders. The lifting of the closure on Ramallah and other Palestinian towns at mid-week will be touted as a gesture in that direction.

Another pre-summit gesture by Sharon is his agreement to resume cooperation with the US-led Mitchell committee investigating the causes of the Palestinian violence. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem say that the US in turn will act to change the charter of the commission in response to Israel's complaints over its role and recent misconduct.

But Sharon still refuses US demands to transfer to the PA over $50 million in collected tax rebates, saying Arafat must first take concrete steps against terror. He also intends to deduct from these sums the debts owed by Palestinians to Israeli companies. Sharon may also address with US officials the estimated $20 billion Arafat and the PLO hold in secret foreign bank accounts and business investments worldwide.

Sharon and his entourage also anticipate US officials will raise the issue of the IDF's use of helicopter gun-ships and other American-supplied weapons to liquidate suspected Palestinian terrorists. Sharon will respond the killings are not political assassinations but acts of self-defense meant to prevent terrorist attacks and protect Israeli lives.

Like Sharon, Bush and his team are interested more at the moment in maintaining regional stability, rather than rushing towards some grand peace deal with the Palestinians. Sharon will tell Bush that, if negotiations resume, he is ready to offer the Palestinians territorial contiguity in less than half of Judea/Samaria within the framework of an interim agreement. But he also will portray Arafat as a close ally of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - the number one enemy of the Bush Administration.

Bush wants Arab states in the region to revive the 1991 Gulf War alliance in order to contain Iraqi weapons programs and eventually overthrow Saddam, which means the US is courting Syria. Nonetheless, Sharon may ask Bush to step up American sanctions against Damascus due to Bashar Assad's increased sponsorship of the heavy Hizb'Allah military presence along the Lebanese border. Syria remains on the US State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, but until now has received less severe treatment than other countries on the list - such as Iraq, Iran, Sudan and North Korea - because it was engaged in negotiations with Israel.

Ahead of the Sharon visit, the spotlight has shifted to the UN Security Council, where the Palestinians are pressing once again for passage of a proposal - initially defeated in December - for an armed international force to "protect the Palestinians." Several UNSC members that abstained three months ago have since changed their mind in favor of the idea, increasing the chances Bush will have to exercise the US veto power to spike the resolution.

The PLO wants to push the measure through before the Arab League summit in Amman at the end of March, and forced an open debate on the issue in the council chambers on Thursday. Nasser Al-Kidwa, the PLO's UN envoy, accused Israel of escalating a bloody military campaign and urged the council to approve an observer force to help the two sides stop the current tragedy and as a means to breath new life into the peace process.

Israel's UN Ambassador Yehuda Lancry countered that the Palestinians are encouraging the violence for political gain and added that those who instigated the violence have no standing to now call for a protection force.

The acting US representative, James Cunningham, told fellow council members that Washington will not approve such an observer force unless both sides agree to it. The US and Israel argued in unison that the best thing the council could do is encourage the parties to calm the situation and resume direct talks in the region.

Sharon dispatched FM Peres to New York to help make Israel's case. Peres met in private earlier yesterday with several UN ambassadors in a bid to stave off the "one-sided" Palestinian initiative. And last night, Peres told the Security Council in closed session that the PA needs only to refrain from terrorism, and there would then be no need for peacekeepers. "The minute [the Palestinians] will stop shooting, there won't be any need for protection. Israel has never initiated any act of violence, only reacted to it," Peres said.

According to one Israeli official, Peres was treated with "tremendous respect" by Security Council members. He also rejected a Palestinian demand to send observers equipped with cameras into areas of tension. "There's no shortage of cameras in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and they're contributing to the act," Peres told reporters after the meeting. "A few days ago we intercepted a message from a Tanzim leader to supporters not to start the protest, because CNN is stuck in a traffic jam," Peres said.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Israeli Leaders Take Diplomatic Battle to US