- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Palestinian and Israeli leaders responded yesterday to former Sen. George Mitchells report containing recommendations for halting violence and resuming negotiations with an energetic round of fingerpointing. This energy being used to deflect blame should instead be focused on an effort to bring an unconditional and immediate stop to the violence.
Though both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government initially responded to the report positively, the day after its release they were squabbling over which of the recommendations should be implemented first: a Palestinian cease-fire, or a freeze of the expansion of Israeli settlements. The report made it clear that before the implementation of any confidence-building measures whether that be the PA incarcerating its terrorists or Israel freezing the "natural growth," or expansion, of its settlements there must be a cessation of hostilities on both sides. Trust cannot be built amid bloodshed. There is no doubt that Israel can command its troops to lay down their guns. Judging by recent statements, it appears that the PA is fully capable of doing so as well.
The report, commissioned by the Israelis and Palestinians at last years Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt, gives both sides steps to follow from today until a time when both sides come once again to the negotiating table. But, unlike previous administrations, the Bush team rightfully does not plan to force their implementation or engage in endless rounds of diplomacy when neither side can commit to laying down its guns.
"It is not something that a special envoy can go impose," Secretary of State Colin Powell said at a press conference on Monday. "It is something that will require the leaders … to be leaders and look beyond the passions of the moment."
To this end, the report called on the Israelis to respond with nonlethal force to unarmed demonstrators and to reinstitute military police investigations into Palestinian deaths resulting from the Israeli forces actions, among other things. It likewise called on the Palestinian Authority to stop gunmen from using civilian areas to fire on Israelis and to stop terrorist operations within its jurisdiction.
Both sides can focus on the areas of the report that point out the shortcomings in the other. Or they can rattle their swords, as was done with gusto yesterday, and insist that the other side jump first. But ultimately, peace can only come when human life is respected. As the report aptly noted: "When the widow of a murdered Israeli physician a man of peace whose practice included the treatment of Arab patients tells us that it seems that Palestinians are interested in killing Jews for the sake of killing Jews, Palestinians should take notice. When the parents of a Palestinian child killed while in his bed by an errant .50 caliber bullet draw similar conclusions about the respect accorded by Israelis to Palestinian lives, Israelis need to listen. When we see the shattered bodies of children we know it is time for adults to stop the violence."
It is now time for the adults in the Middle East to step forward.


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