The First, Small Step in Middle East diplomacy.(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)

Manila Bulletin, May 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

The First, Small Step in Middle East diplomacy.(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)


US Secretary of State Colin Powell's 10-day trip to the troubled Middle East the first of April was marked off as a failure by most of the media, since there was no immediate concrete result. And Powell himself said cryptically that the situation was such that a ceasefire was impossible at that time.

But now we are beginning to see the first small step forward in quiet diplomacy. Palestinians and Israelis have signed on to an agreement to end the siege of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah in exchange for the six Palestinians being held for the murder of the Israeli tourism Minister, whom the Israeli's wanted extradited, to, instead, be turned over to non-military American and British guards. A relatively small concession, one might say, with Sharon's forces still present in Hebron. But final solutions can start with one step.

What was important about Secretary Powell's MidEast swing, which most impatient analysts chose to ignore, was that it demonstrated America's commitment to taking the lead in establishing negotiations and bringing the two sides to the table - which was not clearly evident before. Sometimes President Bush gave the impression he wished the whole problem would simply go away. Unfortunately the whole world - Arab and Israeli and European - was waiting for America to take the lead. And Powell's trip, with this first small agreement now in place, shows that America can be counted on to do just that. On May 3rd, Powell announced an international peace conference on the Middle East will be held soon, with the US, EU, UN and Russia.

It's a hard row to hoe for the United States, which has always backed Israel and at the same time hopes to retain its moderate Arab allies and friends. The Arabs keep warning the US president that a pro-Israel stance will ruin these delicate relationships, while at the same time assuming no responsibility themselves for the well of hatred that exists in much of the Arab world against Israel and the United States, which is kept alive through the religious schools, and the local media.

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