- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Once, he hurled stones at police and trained left-wing militants in the art of street fighting. Thirty years later, Joschka Fischer is winning plaudits for his efforts to end the same kind of violence in the Middle East.
"We've known Mr. Fischer for a long time as a friend of Israel and a man who looks to make every effort to move the peace process in the Middle East," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday.
The remark came after the German foreign minister and vice chancellor managed during a whistle-stop tour of the region to broker a meeting in Berlin between his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Mr. Fischer's peace mission stands in stark contrast to his earlier flirtation with left-wing terrorism. In 1969, he even attended a solidarity conference of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunis.
Mr. Fischer came under political pressure when a photo of him attending the conference was discovered a few months ago. His deputy, Ludger Volmer, tried to play down the event by arguing that he only stayed "an hour" before leaving because he was "bored."
In addition, his advisers stressed that Mr. Fischer had attended the meeting together with his Jewish friend and co-revolutionary Daniel Cohn-Bendit, pre-empting possible charges of an early anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic attitude by the foreign minister.
Still, Mr. Fischer remains haunted by his radical past. A photo that showed him beating up a policeman at a demonstration in Frankfurt in 1973 caused a public uproar. In disbelief, Germans saw their foreign minister, who was wearing a motorcycle helmet and smashing an officer already lying helpless on the ground.
In an interview, Mr. Fischer said that he decided to become a "professional revolutionary" in 1968 after being beaten by police at an anti-Vietnam War rally.
His radical past became a national issue in February when Mr. Fischer appeared as a witness in a murder trial of a former Red Army Faction terrorist. During a special hearing in parliament, he admitted to the beating of a policeman. He has met the man and apologized.
Demands by the opposition for Mr. Fischer's resignation have had no consequences. Despite his past, he is still the most popular politician in Germany. The story of Mr. Fischer's rise from rags to riches continues to fascinate many people.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder remains supportive of Mr. Fischer, who is widely seen as the most able member of his Cabinet. Mr. Fischer's resignation could have meant the end of the governing coalition of Mr. Schroeder's Social Democrats and Mr. Fischer's Green Party.
However, Mr. Fischer who is one of the founding members of the environmentalist Green Party, has alienated many of his former political allies. When he recently criticized the demonstrators at the Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy, he was branded a "hypocrite" and "turncoat" by members of his own party.
Even close political allies are baffled by Mr. Fischer's change of roles. "Those of us who are now in power, and that includes the foreign minister, should not speak in the same stupid way as those who were in power back then," said Mr. Cohn-Bendit who is now a Green member of the European Parliament.
The Green Party almost broke apart two years ago over the question of whether German troops should participate in the Kosovo war. Mr. Fischer, who vigorously supported NATO air strikes, is still denounced by many leftists as a "warlord."
Ironically, Mr. Fischer, once a self-declared pacifist, became the first German foreign minister to send German troops into combat since 1945.
Mr. Fischer acquired his new role as Middle East peace envoy more or less by accident. When he was on a state visit in Tel Aviv in June, the bomb that killed 19 youths exploded not far away from his hotel. Through a spontaneous act of diplomacy, Mr. Fischer was able to prevent Israeli retaliation at the last minute.
Since then, Mr. Fischer has enjoyed great respect from both sides in the conflict, making possible yesterday's breakthrough.


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