Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tamping Down a Civil War Sideshow

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tamping Down a Civil War Sideshow

Article excerpt

Tamping Down a Civil War Sideshow

Eugene Bird, a retired foreign service officer, is president of the Council for the National Interest and diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

It may not seem like it, but the Palestinian war of Liberation, as it should be called, is only a sideshow--albeit an important one--to the war on terrorism. On departing Washington in early December, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made clear his view: The U.S. war on terrorism is the same as the war Israel is fighting against Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Well, not exactly. While America is trying to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, Israel is clearly trying to remain permanently entrenched on the West Bank and Gaza.

Powell's Speech a Seminal Event

In an eagerly awaited speech, Secretary of State Colin Powell on Nov. 19 announced Washington's new Mideast policy. It was meant to placate both parties, move on to a cease-fire and implement the Mitchell plan on the way back to a peace process.

What is new about U.S. policy is so subtle many could miss it entirely: Powell is being authorized to talk about a Palestinian state and about ending the Israeli occupation.

What is not new is that Washington continues to monopolize the effort to reach an agreement on sharing the land of Palestine--which automatically means that Israel can continue to do pretty much whatever it chooses.

So far, there have been no leaks of the first draft of Powell's speech by which to gauge the battle over wording that took place between the White House and the State Department--with the Department of Defense undoubtedly as chief kibitzer.

According to Ned Walker, head of the Middle East Institute and former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, the speech was not cleared for delivery until hours before the Louisville event.

Like his predecessors, Powell refused to interpret or spell out the precise meaning of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338--while citing them as the basis for U.S. policy, as presidents and secretaries of state have for the past 30 years. "The lack of an end-game in the Powell speech is disappointing," said Walker, adding that Powell's proposal was indicative of a "short-term approach."

Knowledgeable Europeans, and some Israelis, are saying that the border between the two peoples should be the 1949 Armistice line. For some two decades, that line was fairly quiet and Israel had the greatest security it ever enjoyed. Tel Aviv refuses even to discuss this line as a final border, however, and Washington appears to acquiesce in this.

During Sharon's December visit, when the suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa caused Congress to rally `round the Israeli flag, Powell was asked on "Larry King Weekend" if the United States was pro-Israel. America's secretary of state replied that he was pro-Israel, but added that he also was "pro-humankind, and I'm also pro-Palestinian to the extent that they are human beings, to the extent that they have a desire to see their children grow up in peace."

In his meeting with George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell only hours after one of the worst Jerusalem mall bombings, Sharon apparently was not told to restrain his reaction one bit. Leading State Department correspondent Barry Schweid tried hard to get a White House spokesperson to indicate off the record whether they had urged such restraint. …

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