- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Both Israel and the Palestinians expect military operations to continue at least until the arrival of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in the region, leaving Prime Minister Ariel Sharon several more days to root out the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.
Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi noted that President Bush, who called for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank yesterday, did not say that withdrawal should be "immediate," nor did he set any date for it.
She and other Palestinian officials said the lack of a deadline amounted to a green light for Israel to use the time until Mr. Powell arrives to continue its operations in West Bank towns and cities.
Israel gave the Palestinians no reason to think differently.
"We welcome the mission of Colin Powell, but our withdrawal won't be automatic and won't be without an agreement" to rein in terrorism, said Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof in a television interview.
"The official response of the prime minister's office is that we go on with the [military] operation until we get a response from their side," she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is unlikely to openly defy his greatest and at times only ally the United States and would be hard-pressed to explain why he was continuing to shell Palestinian cities while Mr. Powell was visiting.
But Mr. Powell, who yesterday canceled the Berlin portion of a previously scheduled European trip, has not announced when he will arrive in Israel.
Mr. Sharon is methodically using troops, helicopters and hundreds of tanks to freeze all public life in the West Bank and search out terrorists, bomb factories and evidence of their links to the Palestinian Authority.
Prompted by a suicide bombing that killed 26 persons at a Passover dinner, Israel since Friday has invaded Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem.
Even if it calls off the military action in response to the visit by Mr. Powell next week, few think the cycle of suicide bombings and Israeli reprisals is anywhere near an end.
"It is not clear [that] either the Israelis or Palestinians have changed their point of view," said former State Department spokesman James Rubin yesterday.
Consequently, he said, the most Mr. Powell can hope to achieve is "a return to the status quo ante" the situation before the Israeli invasion of the West Bank eight days ago. This would leave all the major issues unresolved.
Progress is possible, Mr. Rubin said, only if Mr. Powell delivers a tough private message to the Israelis.
Mr. Bush has voiced strong support for Israel throughout the crisis, consistently saying he "understands" its need and right to defend itself from terrorism. But the United States has been increasingly isolated, with European leaders harshly critical of Israel's actions.
A senior Bush administration official shrugged off those critics yesterday.
"We are often accused of standing alone, and when we think it's appropriate to hold a principled position, we will do so, whether others agree with us or not," said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified. "We're not doing this in response to what the EU may be doing or what others may be doing."

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