- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

For more than a year, Yasser Arafat's intifada made a mockery of the "peace process" that former President Clinton had pursued so energetically in his search for a legacy. Bowing to Mr. Clinton's pressure, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made offers of land for peace, and the Palestinian Authority rejected them. This was, in no small part, the reason for Mr. Sharon's landslide victory at the polls in February. When Mr. Sharon took office, Mr. Arafat continued turning loose the "children of the stones," as the Palestinian rock-throwers are called by the ever-sympathetic Al-Jazeera television network.

President Bush's special peace envoy, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, sailed into this storm in the hopes of reviving the moribund peace talks. Gen. Zinni seemed an unorthodox choice for the task. Marines are not famous for diplomacy, and in more than thirty years' service, Gen. Zinni has often been at the point of the spear. But Gen. Zinni's credentials included what few other Americans' do: personal experience with, and the respect of, many leaders in the Middle East and Africa. He was chosen to be America's strong but quiet voice in the Palestinian conflict. The timing of his assignment seemed good. The President was speaking of a Palestinian state, and both Messrs. Sharon and Arafat seemed tired of the fighting. But, right after Gen. Zinni's arrival, the Jerusalem and Haifa bombings took 26 Israeli lives. The Israelis retaliated, and the Palestinians responded with more and more attacks. The situation seems thoroughly out of control, simply because there is apparently no Palestinian leader with the clout to stop the violence.

For all of Gen. Zinni's expertise, President Bush should call him back for consultations. That's diplo-speak for recognizing that the envoy can't possibly do what he was asked to do. This is no reflection on the general, only on the situation. The Israeli government has taken the position that there will be no further peace talks with Mr. Arafat. Their frustration with him is perfectly reasonable. For all of Mr. Arafat's protestations to the contrary, the only reasonable conclusion is that he either can't, or won't, stop the violence. In either case, he becomes irrelevant to the discussion. But once this conclusion is reached, the question becomes: if not Mr. Arafat, then who?

There is no good answer to this question. Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist groups that are categorically against in peace talks. The opportunity has arisen for a new Palestinian leader someone truly interested in peace, and able to stop the violence to come forward. Legendary Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once said that the Palestinians "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Those pushing for peace hope they do not miss the next one. For now, Gen. Zinni's mission cannot possibly succeed.

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