- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

The Bush administration yesterday endorsed a much-anticipated report demanding an immediate end to Israeli-Palestinian violence and named a point man to oversee efforts to patch together a new peace deal.
Signaling a deepening U.S. commitment to broker an accord, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday dispatched a team of senior diplomats headed by Ambassador to Jordan William Burns to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and other regional leaders in an effort to clear the ground for renewed peace talks between the two sides.
"We all understand that lives are being lost," Mr. Powell said yesterday. "This is not the time to sit and point fingers."
Former Sen. George Mitchell, Maine Democrat, chaired the high-powered panel charged with investigating what sparked the fighting eight months ago and suggesting ways to curtail the bloodshed that has claimed more than 500 lives in that time.
Mr. Mitchell, talking to reporters in New York yesterday, called on Mr. Arafat to take strong measures to curtail recent terrorist acts and street violence. But he also said Israel must end the economic blockade of Palestinian territory and "freeze" all settlement activity in disputed lands once the killing has been stopped.
"Fear, hate, anger and frustration have risen on both sides," Mr. Mitchell said. "The greatest danger of all is that the culture of peace, nurtured over the previous decade, is being shattered."
The guns in the region did not fall silent even as the high-level diplomacy proceeded yesterday.
Two members of Mr. Arafats Fatah political faction were killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip yesterday. Israeli helicopters also attacked a site reportedly identified as a mortar bomb factory in the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Powell and the Bush administration had resisted putting the United States at the center of the Middle East dispute to the intense degree seen under the previous administration. Mr. Bush has not emulated President Clintons hands-on negotiating stance, and the new administration did not appoint a successor to Dennis Ross, special envoy to the region for Mr. Clinton.
"The United States is not putting forward a peace plan today," Mr. Powell cautioned yesterday. "The United States is not convening a meeting for the purpose of going over" an ultimate peace deal between the two sides.
But the naming of Mr. Burns as Mr. Powells "special assistant" on the regional crisis shows how the U.S. hand has been forced by events on the ground.
Mr. Burns, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, will work with Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and Jerusalem Consul General Ron Schlicher in helping to implement a series of "confidence-building measures" contained in the Mitchell report.
Mr. Powell, who leaves tonight for an extended tour of Africa and Europe, said yesterday he was not planning any personal shuttle diplomacy in the region, but would reconsider his role after hearing from Mr. Burns team.
"The United States will remain engaged. I will remain engaged. The president will remain engaged," Mr. Powell said yesterday.
Mr. Ross, interviewed last night on CNN, said the new U.S. moves showed the new administration had reluctantly concluded "the low-visibility approach was simply not enough."
The Mitchell report contained little that was new and the Israelis and Palestinians yesterday chose to highlight the parts that dealt with their own long-standing grievances.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, on a visit to Moscow yesterday, said his government "accepted" the report, but went out of his way to note that the panel established no direct link between the immediate need to end the violence and the eventual need to deal with the issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands.
Mr. Powell himself yesterday emphasized that an immediate end to the violence was his single top priority and that confidence-building measures — including an easing of the settlement activity — could only come later.
"Its a very clear sequence in my mind," he said.
Palestinian officials for their part focused on the Mitchell panel recommendations for a sharp curb on future settlements and appealed again for an international protection force to police the region.
Palestinian officials yesterday said they wanted a resumption of the Sharm El Sheik negotiations in Egypt. A U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian summit there in October commissioned the report that Mr. Mitchell released yesterday.
Serving on the Mitchell commission were former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire; former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel; Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland; and European Union foreign policy czar Javier Solana.
Mr. Powell spoke with both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Sharon by telephone yesterday, and spent much of the weekend discussing the report with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, regional leaders in the Middle East and European Union colleagues, State Department officials said.
Mr. Annan is expected to discuss the reports findings today with the U.N. Security Council
Said Mr. Powell yesterday: "It has been clear for months now that unless the violence goes down, there are no prospects for negotiations. It is as simple as that. You cant wish it away."


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