- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

JERUSALEM — Bill Clinton failed, Tony Blair drew a blank and Kofi Annan made little progress. Now a team of Hollywood film stars is about to visit the Middle East on a private peace mission, in the belief that their charms will work magic on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Brad Pitt, his wife Jennifer Aniston, and Danny DeVito are among the stars who aim to succeed where statesmen have stumbled.

“The past few years of conflict mean that yet another generation of Israelis and Palestinians will grow up in hatred,” reads a statement from Mr. Pitt and Miss Aniston. “We cannot allow that to happen.”

Quite how they intend to stop it is not entirely clear. The logic behind their mission, planned to take place before the end of the year, is not especially sophisticated. Mr. Pitt and Miss Aniston believe that most people in the region want a negotiated settlement with an end to violence, and imagine that by appealing directly to “ordinary folk,” they can bring the warring parties together.

In a region suffering from peace-initiative fatigue, however, Israelis and Palestinians have greeted news of the Hollywood initiative with bemusement and incredulity. For some, the prospect of Mr. DeVito sitting down to talk peace with Hamas militants over a cup of sweet tea, or Mr. Pitt breaking bread at a Sabbath dinner with hard-line Jewish settlers, is preposterous.

“Following Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election as governor in California, it seems we are now joining the Hollywood revolution,” said Israeli sociologist Oz Almog. “From time to time, some celebrities think that they might help, and the media amplifies their mission. But this is an incredibly complex situation and I am afraid they are naive,” he said.

“Many Palestinians do not even have television sets. What is more, for the past three years here no one has listened to anyone, so what makes these people think they will listen to Danny DeVito?”

The stars are among a group of actors, directors and writers who have signed up to the nearly $7 million peace initiative called One Voice, launched by Daniel Lubetzky, a Jewish-American businessman.

They were persuaded to back the cause after Rhea Perlmann, who starred in “Cheers” and is married to Mr. DeVito, hosted a reception for Mr. Lubetzky at their home in Los Angeles that was attended by more than 100 guests. Other Hollywood figures backing the project include Mr. Pitt’s co-star in “Fight Club,” Edward Norton, and Jason Alexander, a star of “Seinfeld” and “Pretty Woman.”

Mr. Lubetzky plans to distribute computer terminals to community centers, schools and offices in both Israeli and Palestinian areas for use in an informal “referendum.”

The actors will urge people to make their views known on the important sticking points that have thwarted peace negotiations, including the future of Jerusalem, national borders, the status of Palestinian refugees and access to disputed water supplies.

The organizers concede that none of the actors has any experience of the Middle East or of conflict resolution, but argue that this may be a good thing as they will be considered nonpartisan.

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