- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

Even if they haven't found a peace solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Americans and Europeans have agreed to keep the peace between themselves as they design a plan to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That may have been the only thing agreed to at a meeting this week of U.S., U.N., European and Russian representatives. As unhappy as the Europeans were with President Bush's June 24 speech on his Middle East policy, in which he stated that Yasser Arafat must go before a peace settlement could be reached, they have decided avoiding conflict with America may be more important than continuing to coddle the Palestinians with some unfortunate exceptions, of course.
Under scrutiny at the quartet meeting, which was held in New York, was a new peace plan by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The proposal would see Mr. Arafat immediately appointing an interim prime minister, who would oversee reforms in the Palestinian Authority, followed by elections for a new leader next year, the declaration of a provisional Palestinian state at the end of 2003 and the beginning of final-status negotiations in 2004. The U.N. Security Council would appoint an envoy to keep the Palestinians accountable for reform. The proposal is revolutionary for Europeans, who have long supported Mr. Arafat, in that it sets out a potential timetable for Mr. Arafat's departure.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said on American television Monday night that he would be "more than willing to consider" a plan that would lead to the appointment of a new Palestinian prime minister and leave Mr. Arafat as a figurehead, though he had said in an interview with reporters the previous Saturday that "it would be an excellent idea" if Mr. Arafat would name a replacement and step down. Mr. Powell said the administration had actually suggested that there be an interim Palestinian leader several times. And, on Thursday, for the first time, the Bush administration suggested two Palestinian leaders as possible replacements to Mr. Arafat Finance Minister Salam Faiad and Interior Minister Abdel-Razak al-Yehiyeh. Still, the Bush administration is right to be wary of a symbolic Arafat leadership, when Mr. Arafat continues to support terrorism and has been unable to deliver reforms to his corrupt financial and security institutions.
The extent to which Mr. Arafat controls the Palestinian security and financial institutions behind the scenes should be taken into consideration in any Palestinian-Israeli peace proposal.
"Is there such a thing as a ceremonial role for Arafat?" David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said in an interview Thursday. "I'm afraid that there's a possibility of leapfrogging [over the question of leadership] if we ignore inconvenient truths," that the Palestinians are not able to reform themselves, he said.
But by Wednesday, Mr. Fischer was insisting that "a functioning, authoritative government is a prerequisite for the establishment of a Palestinian state," and that the newly appointed prime minister be independent, though he told the German press that this proposal did not come as the result of pressure from the United States. The Europeans had initially been inclined to put the focus on granting the Palestinians a state first, which would put the onus on the Israelis, rather than the Palestinians.
In the end, though, the quartet agreed that the Palestinians had to decide on their next leader themselves, and that it would focus its energy on assisting with reforms to the security and civil institutions. The fact that the parties agreed to disagree over how to handle Mr. Arafat and what to expect from him until elections early next year may remain a way to keep peace between the non-combatant European and Bush administration for now. It is a reflection of the deteriorating trans-Atlantic relationship that such a conclusion is considered succor.

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