- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech on the administration's "new" Middle East policy left much to be desired. His statements at the University of Louisville were meant to deflect criticism that the administration has not been involved enough in brokering negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, they left more questions than answers.

Israelis and Palestinians, exhausted by the increase in violence that has erupted in the wake of last year's failed Camp David talks, were given no new vision for the future. Instead, Mr. Powell pointed to the past, to the lost ground since the peace proposals put forward by CIA Director George Tenet and former Sen. George Mitchell. Mr. Powell told Israel to stop its occupation and said that if it had any confusion on the how-tos of withdrawal, they were to refer to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, which calls for swapping land for peace, and Resolution 338 of 1973, which calls for a ceasefire and the implementation of 242. Unfortunately, there are as many interpretations of these resolutions as there are countries who have a stake in the Middle East conflict.

Equally confusing was the creation of a new position for Gen. Anthony Zinni, the Marine commander who directed Bill Clinton's Operation Desert Fox against Iraq on the eve of the impeachment hearings three years ago. His role is to oversee a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians. Wait a minute. Was this not U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns' job? What new mechanisms will be used to cement a cease-fire that have not already been tried and failed? Mr. Zinni's past also places him in a delicate position. He has lobbied against U.S. support for the Iraqi opposition in Washington's search for solutions to oust Saddam Hussein, and he took full responsibility for sending the USS Cole into terrorist-infiltrated Yemen.

Mr. Powell's proposal to set up an economic reconstruction effort to help rebuild the Palestinian economy could also mean a return to the past. Stringent conditions should be placed on the funds, which should not go directly to the Palestinian Authority (PA). In 1997, a PA comptroller's report found that 40 percent of its budget was mismanaged or used for kickbacks. In 1998, an internal EU report found that $20 million in unrecoverable U.S. and EU funds were spent on amenities such as Italian designer kitchens and luxury bathrooms for Mr. Arafat's friends rather than relief for the Palestinian people. Since then, the United States has continued leading global fund-raising efforts, pouring billions into the PA's pockets. But this has resulted in little improvement in living conditions for the Palestinian people themselves.

Peace must start with the determination of Israelis and Palestinians to stop the violence. Yet, rather than aid that process, Mr. Powell displayed a philosophy of moral equivalence that will only harm efforts toward peace. By likening the "concession" that Palestinians must give up terrorism to the concession that Israelis must cease their occupation, Mr. Powell made defending the security of Israel's borders a crime on the same level as terrorism. His lack of definitive measures to follow through with this "new" policy leaves the Palestinians room to continue pointing fingers and defending policies of terrorism. It leaves the rest of the world with a lesson in how to perfect ambiguity.

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