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The Middle East

Powell's Peace Mission Yields No Cease-Fire

Mideast: Secretary heads home after security and political strife thwarts an accord. He calls on both sides to make choices.

April 18, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — In a serious setback to the Bush administration's foreign policy, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell left the Middle East on Wednesday with little to show for his ambitious 10-day peace mission, quickly triggering angry rhetoric and fears of new bloodshed.

Powell failed most significantly to work out terms for a cease-fire to end nearly 19 months of violence, which has blown up into a region-wide crisis during the last three weeks of suicide bombings and Israel's reoccupation of many areas in the West Bank.

He was also unable to win agreement on an international conference to launch a political process on a final settlement between Israel and the Arab world, a step that would be key to providing incentives to end the violence and prevent the spillover of bloodshed into the wider region.

"Secretary Powell leaves the situation much worse than when he came in," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said after Powell held his final talks with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

At a subsequent news conference, a tired and grim-faced Powell said he had "listened carefully" and "probed hard." He claimed that he had gained broad support for a comprehensive strategy that embraces three components--political, security and humanitarian issues--to move forward.

But in the end, America's top diplomat was unable to be a catalyst in dealing with the security and political disputes blocking the peace process. Failure to break the deadlock could in turn have a ripple effect on the Bush administration as it pursues a war on terrorism, the all-absorbing focus of President Bush's foreign policy, analysts in the region warned.

Shortly before leaving Jerusalem, Powell called on Israelis and Palestinians to make strategic choices to break the deadlock.

"Both sides will have to compromise. Both sides will have to make difficult choices. And both sides may well have to shift from long-held positions," he told the televised news conference.

In a reflection of the chicken-and-egg problem all the parties face, he added, "There can be no peace without security, but there can also be no security without peace." At least 1,278 Palestinians and 452 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

The secretary said he was disappointed in Arafat, whom he pressed to stop equivocating on the violence and suicide attacks against Israel.

"We believed all along that he could have done more. . . . The world is looking for him to make a strategic choice and lead his people down the path of peace and reconciliation and let the international community help him," Powell said.

"If he does not make that strategic choice, it becomes very difficult for the United States, or for anyone else, frankly, to play a role in achieving what the Palestinian people want, and that is peace and a state of their own," Powell said.

Arafat must issue orders to his remaining security forces to arrest and prosecute extremists, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and stop incitement, the secretary said.

Although Arafat issued a strong statement before his talks with Powell that condemned all terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing Friday that killed six people and injured dozens, words are not enough, the secretary added.

Arafat might be "constrained" in his ability to move about or to communicate from his besieged headquarters in Ramallah, but the Palestinian leader still has "a powerful voice" and a leadership position from which to rein in extremists, Powell said.

The Palestinian Authority "must decide, as the rest of the world has decided, that terrorism must end," Powell said. "Arafat must take that message to his people."

To facilitate that process, the U.S. plans to resume contact soon with Palestinian security forces to evaluate their capabilities in the aftermath of massive Israeli detentions and destruction of police stations, computer databases, communications and vehicles. The U.S. goal is to restore cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli security forces, Powell said.

But Powell also had firm language for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Despite an "unshakable" U.S. commitment to Israel's security, Powell called on the Jewish state to expedite its withdrawal from West Bank villages and towns and to "look beyond the destructive impact of the [Jewish] settlements and occupation, both of which must end."

Israel should instead embrace "the promise" now offered by a recent Arab League proposal for a comprehensive and lasting peace, he said.

Although Sharon has provided a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal, Powell said he was eager to see the long-promised movement and had stressed the urgency of its completion in talks with the prime minister.

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