SAN FRANCISCO — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell said here Tuesday that he fears the current Mideast violence could topple both Israel's government and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and doom peace efforts for the foreseeable future.
"If you ask me to give a prediction, it looks as though the present government of Israel does not last . . . and that Yasser Arafat is undercut in his leadership of the Palestinian people," the San Jose congressman told a luncheon gathering.
If Arafat were weakened and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak were replaced by a hard-liner, Campbell said, Middle East peace would be improbable.
"Out of despair and violence, the extremes take opportunity," said Campbell, a member of the House International Relations Committee. "And I fear that is where we might be headed."
Campbell's remarks came in response to questions after a campaign speech to the Rotary Club here. It was not the first time he has addressed the subject of the Middle East in his uphill battle to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He has told numerous crowds--including Jewish groups--that he believes Palestinians are entitled to a homeland and that Jerusalem can be the capital of more than one nation.
Feinstein, in a telephone interview, also voiced concern about the future of peace efforts, although she did not venture any forecasts.
"I don't think the prediction serves any purpose," Feinstein said. "I think the important thing is for the Arab nations to weigh in and bring Arafat back to the bargaining table."
Otherwise, she said, "I see no chance for the peace process . . . [and] I see things going back to the way they were decades ago."
Both Campbell and Feinstein praised President Clinton and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan for attempting to broker new talks.
Feinstein also praised Israel's efforts until now in seeking a peace settlement. "There is no Israeli administration in history that has been more forthcoming and willing to make concessions than the Barak government," she said.
But both the senator and her opponent questioned the decision by right-wing leader Ariel Sharon to visit Jerusalem's Haram al Sharif, a holy site for Muslims and Jews. That event has been widely criticized as the act that ignited nearly two weeks of violence that has left scores dead, almost all of them Palestinians.
"I do believe that what Sharon did, although he had the right to do it . . . was provocative," Feinstein said. "To go at a sensitive time with an army and a whole group of people making statements. . . . He got a very negative reaction, which unleashed and began this latest episode."
Campbell was more blunt. "I believe it was a terrible error for Ariel Sharon to go to Temple Mount," the congressman said.
"He asserts his right as an Israel citizen, but he must know that his actions have consequences. He must know that his appearance on Temple Mount at that exact moment would lead to disturbance rather than calm," Campbell said.