Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Mediators Arrive in a Doubting Mideast ; Weekend Attacks and Retaliations between Israel and the Palestinians Make Burns and Zinni's Task Today Tougher

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Mediators Arrive in a Doubting Mideast ; Weekend Attacks and Retaliations between Israel and the Palestinians Make Burns and Zinni's Task Today Tougher

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM

As the Bush administration begins its most determined efforts so far to ease the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the strife between them is as grim as it has been in a long while.

While there is some hope that a peace mission beginning today led by former Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns may yield a cease-fire more durable than its predecessors, pessimism abounds. A common view is that the US is acting mainly in the service of its fight against terrorism, rather than out of a desire to stem the conflict.

The violent acts of the past few days have inflamed tempers. But even assuming that tempers cool, the underlying political realities on both sides don't seem to allow much room for diplomatic initiatives.

One factor is that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat "does not have the capacity to enforce a cease-fire," says Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Survey and Policy Research in Ramallah. Another is that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "is determined to crush Arafat and the Palestinian Authority," not make peace with them, Dr. Shikaki says.

Israeli officials deny any intention to dismantle the Palestinian Authority or to undermine Arafat, but they also consistently describe the Palestinian leader as the head of a "gang of terrorists."

It seems impossible for many people to imagine these two leaders ever making peace with each other. "How can you envision Sharon and Arafat signing something that is acceptable to both sides?" asks Emanuele Ottolenghi, a historian of Israel at Oxford, in light of Arafat's inability or unwillingness to reach an agreement last year with then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, whose terms for peace were derided and attacked by Sharon as too generous.

In the near term, Shikaki and other Palestinian analysts have argued that Arafat is politically unable to compel or persuade Palestinians to renounce violence. Indeed, recent events have likely eroded that ability still further.

On Thursday morning, a remote-controlled Israeli explosive detonated along a well-trafficked path in the Gaza Strip, killing five Palestinian boys under the age of 15. Israel officials have said that their troops laid the explosive in order to strike at Palestinian militants who use the area to attack Israeli installations, and deny any intent to hurt noncombatants.

But the event is being portrayed in the Palestinian media as a "massacre" - and is exactly the sort of violence that redoubles Palestinian inclinations to war, not peace, with Israel.

On Friday, Israeli forces used helicopter-borne missiles to assassinate Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, a leader of the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas. The Israelis say Abu Hanoud was behind some of the most deadly suicide bombings of recent months, and they had long demanded that the Palestinians prevent him from engaging in terrorism. …

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