WASHINGTON — With her most dire warnings about the consequences of the stalemate in peace talks coming true, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is to meet today in Paris with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in search of a formula to end six days of violence and restart the battered peace process.
The talks at the U.S. ambassador's residence begin a diplomatic marathon. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat also are to meet today with French President Jacques Chirac, then travel to Egypt to meet Thursday with President Hosni Mubarak. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan also plans to weigh in, meeting with the two leaders sometime this week.
But even with all that political firepower, there is no better than a longshot chance of restarting the peace talks after the violence that has included firefights between Israeli troops and Palestinian police.
For months, U.S. officials have warned that just such a spasm of violence would follow a breakdown in negotiations. On Tuesday, one official said ruefully, "Those scenarios that were all discussed are coming to pass."
Although Albright's aides refused to give details of her strategy, they conceded that it is unlikely she can restore the high hopes that were created--and then dashed--during the two-week Camp David summit in July.
Some analysts in and out of the U.S. government suggested that the latest turmoil may speed an ultimate agreement by giving Barak, Arafat and others a look at the consequences of failure. But other experts dismissed that as little more than wishful thinking.
"The violence is more likely to poison the political atmosphere on both sides," said Richard Haass, a former White House expert on the region. "People are always saying that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. But in the Middle East, things tend to get worse before they get much worse."
Nevertheless, Albright is pulling out all the stops. She will be assisted by U.S. peace envoys Dennis B. Ross and Aaron Miller. And CIA Director George J. Tenet will be on hand to offer suggestions on how to restore security cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian forces. The Palestinians, especially, have expressed confidence in the past in the CIA to mediate security issues.
"Israelis and Palestinians have cooperated in the past to achieve historic agreements as well as practical cooperation on the ground," Albright said Tuesday.
With the situation now so dangerous, U.S. officials said all potential peacemakers are welcome.
"It is probably a good idea because both Mubarak and Chirac will have more influence with Arafat at this point than Albright," said Geoffrey Kemp, a White House expert on the Middle East during the Reagan administration. "Arafat needs to make tough decisions to rein in his own people."
At the same time, Kemp said, the violence, sparked by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to a disputed holy site in Jerusalem, has limited the ability of Barak and Arafat to maneuver.
"The incident on Temple Mount demonstrates more than ever that the Muslim world will be absolutely insistent that Israel should not control all of Jerusalem," he said. "On the other side, there will be insistence in Israel that Israel has to control Jerusalem or Jews will never be allowed there."