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Powell Speech Sets Stage for Mideast Talks

November 20, 2001|NORMAN KEMPSTER and TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell revived the dormant U.S. mediator role in the Middle East on Monday and warned Israelis and Palestinians to get ready to give up some cherished objectives.

In the Bush administration's most detailed analysis of its hopes for peace in the region, Powell did not outline a new U.S. peace proposal, as some aides had hinted he might. But he did name a new emissary, retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, to meet with high-level Israeli and Palestinian security officials to reinstate an often-violated cease-fire.

And he said he would send William Burns, the State Department's top Middle East expert, back to the region for extensive talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and other regional leaders. It is a role that Burns played earlier this year but that has been neglected since the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Before the attacks, Powell had prepared a speech about the Middle East that would have advocated creation of a Palestinian state, according to U.S. officials. But in the wake of the attacks, the speech was not delivered. These officials said the assaults set back the Palestinian cause, which Saudi militant Osama bin Laden claimed to support.

When he finally delivered the speech Monday to a gathering sponsored by the McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville, Powell did call for a Palestinian state--but only as a result of negotiations and only after the violence ends. Carefully balancing the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians, he produced a speech that contained something to like and something to loathe for each side.

For Everyone's Sake, 'Occupation Must End'

Although the speech contained no substantive departures from previous U.S. policy, there were some rhetorical flourishes that Middle East historians said were new. In a region where words can be as important as deeds, rhetoric is significant.

For instance, Powell went further than any previous administration when he said flatly, "For the sake of Palestinians and Israelis alike, the occupation must end." Although U.S. governments frequently have criticized aspects of Israel's 34-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, none had focused so directly on the occupation itself.

Powell also called for an end to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories.

At the same time, he said, Palestinians must "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." Although the "Jewish state" is a commonly used synonym for Israel, the U.S. government does not normally use the phrase, in deference to Israel's non-Jewish minority population.

Powell also called on Palestinians to stop their assaults against Israelis, and he demanded that Israel end the excessive use of military force against Palestinians.

"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. "However legitimate their claims, they cannot be heard, let alone addressed, through violence."

Powell said Burns and Zinni will leave for the region after Thanksgiving. Zinni, former head of the U.S. Central Command, which covers the Middle East, will stay for an extended time, Powell said.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to create high-level committees to work with Zinni, Powell said. The Israeli committee will include Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, along with a senior day-to-day negotiator, he said.

Talking to reporters aboard his aircraft on the way home from Kentucky, Powell said Zinni is expected to exert substantial pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians to end 14 months of bloody confrontation by reining in their own forces instead of trying to force restraint on the other side.

"You'll see some pushing and prodding when Tony Zinni gets on the ground," he said.

Palestinian Authority officials applauded the choice of Zinni and said they hope he will push Israel into a new round of negotiations. Israeli officials seemed anxious that he might do just that.

Still, both Israelis and Palestinians welcomed Powell's speech, picking the portions they liked and discarding what they didn't. But the two sides remain so far apart that even a new and concerted U.S. initiative stands little chance of success, experts in Jerusalem said.

Sharon Praises Powell's Approach

Israelis were buoyed by Powell's call for an end to Palestinian violence and incitement, saying the U.S. fight against terror that Powell described was their battle too. Israeli officials also said they were pleased by Powell's reference to Israel as a Jewish state.

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