- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

The brass ring again

The Israeli ambassador and the Washington representative of the Palestinians yesterday pledged their cooperation in the latest Middle East peace efforts but warned that their governments also fear the possibility of civil war.

For Israel, the risk is in the forced removal of West Bank settlers, many of whom vow to fight their evictions, said Ambassador Daniel Ayalon. For the Palestinians, the danger lies in the Arab terrorist groups that reject any peace moves with Israel, said Hasan Abdel Rahman of the Palestinian Authority.

They appeared on a panel with Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy and Jordanian Ambassador Karim Kawar, whose countries are the only Arab nations with full diplomatic relations with Israel. They all agreed that the current situation in the Middle East presents the best chance for peace in decades.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Phyllis Oakley, who moderated the forum sponsored by Americans for Peace Now, said past Middle East efforts have been compared to riding a carousel and trying to grab the brass ring.

“The brass ring is coming around again,” she said.

The Arab ambassadors recognized that the new Palestinian government must guarantee Israel security and that Israel must demonstrate its commitment to a Palestinian state.

“This is a very fragile situation,” Mr. Kawar said. “We have to give the Palestinians something to live for rather than die for.”

Mr. Ayalon said Israel recognized the Palestinian election as free and fair and believes it has a partner for peace in the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Ayalon said his government wants Mr. Abbas to succeed in his goals of reforming the Palestinian Authority and stopping terrorism against Israel. His government is also aware of the risks Mr. Abbas is taking.

“We do not want to see a civil war among the Palestinians,” Mr. Ayalon said. “Mindful of the explosive situation in Israel, we do not want to be involved in a civil war.”

He said Israel already is demonstrating “confidence-building measures” with the release of 500 Palestinian prisoners and the imminent release of 400 more.

Mr. Rahman said Mr. Abbas received a mandate from the Palestinian people, who are “interested in living in peace side by side with Israel.”

“For [Mr. Abbas] to succeed, we need the cooperation of the Israelis, the international community and our Arab brothers,” Mr. Rahman said.

He warned Israel that the “most destructive activities” are the settlements, adding that “we have witnessed an increase in settlement activity in the West Bank in the last few months.”

Mr. Rahman expressed satisfaction with the public remarks of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has promised to withdraw Israeli forces from Gaza and remove some remote settlements from the West Bank.

“What we hear from our Israeli counterparts is very good, but we need action on the ground,” he said.

Mr. Fahmy promised that Egypt will help both Israelis and Palestinians work toward peace and noted that each government is trying to “respond to each other’s needs.”

“Sharon is trying to respond to the Palestinian need for political dividends, and the Palestinians are trying to respond to the incitement [to violence] against Israel,” he said.

“If there are more settlements, it will be difficult for the Palestinians to believe a viable state will be created anytime soon. If there is more violence, it will be difficult for Israelis to believe there will be any security anytime soon.”

Bolton’s replacement

President Bush has selected a senior scholar at a conservative think tank to replace John R. Bolton as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Robert Joseph is currently with the National Institute for Public Policy. He previously served on the National Security Council where he worked with Mr. Bolton, now nominated to serve as ambassador to the United Nations.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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