- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

When President Bush's special envoy, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, returned last month from the Middle East unable to push forward the peace process, it was advisable for him to stay home until both the Israelis and the Palestinians were ready to push for a cease-fire. Shortly after he returned to the region on Thursday for a four-day visit to secure a lasting cease-fire, the Palestinians gave him further proof that they are not and will not be ready for peace any time soon.
In the predawn hours of Thursday, Israeli commandos intercepted a freighter owned by the Palestinian Authority that was carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms, including long-range rockets, anti-tank missiles, mines and explosives, the Israeli foreign ministry announced yesterday. Israel's armed forces chief, Gen. Shaul Mofaz, reported that the ship was bought and financed by the Palestinian Authority and skippered by an officer of the Palestinian navy. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will call on the international community next week to declare Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, the foreign ministry said. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are being given a pass.
Despite the fact that Gen. Zinni was meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat when news of the boat intercept broke, the U.S. envoy declared: "I am optimistic, and I am hopeful and feel that we have the conditions that are right to get the process going." Right conditions for the peace process? Even if one discounts the boat incident which both the Iranian foreign ministry and Mr. Arafat did by denying any connection with the vessel the Palestinian Authority leaves little room for trust. In a meeting with Gen. Zinni Thursday night, senior security officials and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer explained that Mr. Arafat had much more to do to stop the violence. The Palestinian Authority has not closed Hamas or Islamic Jihad recruiting centers and has not made significant arrests of terrorists.
So, once again, Gen. Zinni finds himself the scorekeeper between two sides offering few solutions and many contradictions. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants seven days of complete calm before implementing U.S.-brokered peace plans, while Mr. Arafat said they could start to implement the plans immediately, but don't have a definitive timetable from the Americans. Mr. Sharon's expectation that the Palestinians could have complete calm for more than a day is just as unrealistic as Mr. Arafat's boast that they would immediately implement the U.S. peace plans, which call for a durable cease-fire and new peace negotiations.
For now, Gen. Zinni is left with the hope that the European Union's foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, will fare better after arriving on Sunday, the same day as a security meeting with Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. officials. To be sure, he'll leave with one additional souvenir after questioning Mr. Arafat on the Iranian arms incident: promises that Mr. Arafat will give his full cooperation and conduct an investigation into the matter. Such promises, like kitschy tourist collectibles, are growing old.


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