- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

The Palestinian's chief representative in Washington yesterday called on President Clinton to resume a more active role in seeking an end to the Middle East conflict as a U.S.-led fact-finding commission announced it would travel soon to the battle-torn region.

"To be honest, we would like to see him more active," Hasan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian's chief representative in Washington, said in an interview. "We'd like to see the United States more assertive in bringing Israel back into the fold than raise their hand in helplessness over [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak's behavior.

"I can assure you that in our private discussions, the U.S. government is not happy with the behavior of Mr. Barak and the Israeli military and government," because the regional violence threatens to "spill over to [the] rest of the Arab countries and harm American interests," Mr. Rahman said.

However, senior U.S. officials in interviews denied the administration was displeased with Mr. Barak and rejected Mr. Rahman's assertions.

"It's not true" that the United States is upset with Mr. Barak, an official said. "We're upset with the situation. But our view is that more force is not going to be the answer any more than the intifada is an answer for the Palestinians"

"The Israelis cannot impose an outcome on the Palestinians and vice versa," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Since erupting Sept. 28, fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians has killed more than 280 persons, nearly 90 percent of them Palestinians.

U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson said yesterday she was "shocked and dismayed and even devastated" at the plight of Palestinians confronting Israeli forces in the occupied territories.

In a hard-hitting report on her visit earlier this month to the Middle East, Mrs. Robinson urged establishment of an international monitoring body. Her report also called for a halt to construction of new Israeli settlements in the territories, which Mrs. Robinson said had become "flash points for stone-throwing and shooting by Palestinians with severe retaliation by Israeli military."

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and his four-man commission met yesterday with Palestinian and Israeli diplomats in New York. They also held talks with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"The committee will travel to the region in connection with its work in the near future," Mr. Mitchell told a news conference in a New York hotel after seeing Mr. Annan.

Mr. Annan said the investigating commission should go to the region "sooner rather than later as they could have a calming influence," his spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Mr. Clinton, after the failure to reach agreement at Camp David in July and the failure of the Sharm el Sheik summit last month to end violence, has been relatively quiet about the Middle East crisis.

Foreign policy aides to the presidential candidates Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore also have kept quiet on the Middle East and on other foreign policy issues.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright last week asked the Palestinians to do all they can to stop the shooting, create buffers to keep rioters away from Israeli troops, stop incitement to violence and re-arrest terrorists.

Mrs. Albright asked Israel to pull forces back to positions they were at before Sept. 28 when violence began, lift economic restrictions on Palestinians and restrain the use of force. She also called for regional and European leaders to convene talks on resolving the Middle East crisis.

The Mitchell fact-finding commission, which was created Oct. 17 under an agreement hammered out in Sharm el Sheik aims to investigate the causes of the unrest.

The commission, which includes former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Warren Rudman, former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland, held its first meeting Sunday at a hotel in New York.

Mr. Rahman said that the Gore and the Bush foreign policy teams are afraid to deal with the Middle East conflict because it is basically a domestic issue, driven by pro-Israeli and Jewish voters and interests.

"We talk to [the Bush and Gore teams]," Mr. Rahman said. "They would like to see President Clinton remove this issue from the front table before he leaves office. It's a hot issue for them."

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