- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

The U.S. peace plan for the Middle East has foundered but, with violence spinning out of control, the Israelis and Palestinians must find their own path back to the peace process, U.S. officials say.
"What I am disappointed at is that we have not been able to get the level of violence down so that we can get back to a peace process," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said en route to a meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers yesterday in Rome.
Israeli and Palestinian officials are asking for U.S. help in ending the fighting, which since a brief calm following a tentative cease-fire two weeks ago has escalated this week to involve mortars, helicopters, suicide bombings, shootings, assassinations and a massing of Israeli troops in the West Bank.
Israel said yesterday it had bolstered its forces in the West Bank as a warning to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop attacks, but that an invasion of areas under his control was not imminent.
Mr. Arafat, on his return from an Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo during which he called for an urgent Arab summit, branded the Israeli troop movements a "dangerous military escalation."
The G-8 ministers, alarmed at the escalating violence, placed the item at the top of their agenda in Rome yesterday and called for both the Israelis and Palestinians to begin implementing the peace plan proposed by former Sen. George Mitchell.
"There is a very wide consensus among us that time is slipping away," said Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero, host of the two-day talks. "Someone has to take a step forward."
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine noted that European Union states had called for impartial observers to help implement the Mitchell plan and said Mr. Powell had called that proposal premature but had not opposed it. Israel so far has refused to allow outside observers.
A senior U.S. official in Rome told reporters that Washington agreed with the EU idea in principle but could do nothing until the Israelis and Palestinians put the Mitchell plan into practice.
"We're still looking for a way to take the initiative out of the hands of extremists," the U.S. official was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
Both sides in the dispute are looking to the United States to intervene more forcefully.
"The U.S. approach is not sufficient — one has to be candid and tell the United States that it's not working," Hasan Abdel Rahman, Washington representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in an interview.
An Israel Embassy official in Washington called for the United States to "keep pressure on Arafat."
"We need an unequivocal message from the United States and the rest of the world" condemning Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks, he said.
But a senior U.S. official this week described the U.S. position as one of "neutrality."
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said both sides should keep trying to establish the cease-fire negotiated by CIA Director George J. Tenet and stick to the Mitchell plan.
But an aide to a key Senate committee said the administration has "no new plan" to tamp down the violence.
"No one is offering a long-term solution. But without U.S. engagement, the parties on their own are not able to solve things," he said.
Robert Pelletreau, former assistant secretary of state for the Near East, said both Israel and the Palestinians appear ready to continue the fighting.
"Both sides are double-talking the U.S. — both accepted the Mitchell report and both violated it," he said of the latest U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan.
"They whipsawed Colin Powell and basically 'dissed' him," said Mr. Pelletreau, who served in the first term of the Clinton administration.
Given the willingness of both Israelis and Palestinians to continue to seek "the right level of violence," he said, "it would not be appropriate for the U.S. to put more chips on the table" and push for new talks or solutions.
Still, President Bush and Mr. Powell appear to be increasingly drawn into the conflict, said Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"Over the past eight weeks three envoys have traveled to the Middle East, one more senior than the next, with little substantive change on the ground," Mr. Satloff said in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.
"The next logical step up the diplomatic ladder is the president's own engagement, precisely the scenario the Bush administration has sought to avoid," Mr. Satloff added.

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