When US envoy Anthony Zinni tried to broker an Israeli-
Palestinian cease-fire late last year, he failed because he seemed
to lack the leeway to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
say diplomats here.
As he returns this week for another attempt, success will hinge
on whether he can push the Israelis - and not just the Palestinians -
"During this mission, to salvage the situation, he needs to talk
turkey with both sides," observes a US official who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
Over the weekend, Mr. Sharon indicated new flexibility toward a
cease-fire, saying he would no longer insist that seven days of
absolute quiet precede any interim confidence building steps.
The major prompt for the Zinni trip is that the first 10 days of
March have been the worst period of violence here in the past 18
months. On Friday, Israeli forces killed 39 Palestinians, mainly
during sweeping incursions into refugee camps in the West Bank. Six
Israelis also died, including five teenage military trainees who
were killed after a Palestinian fighter crept into their settlement
in the Gaza Strip.
Signs of conciliation are no surprise in advance of high-profile
US intervention, but the Israeli leader may not have his eye only on
Mr. Zinni. Vice President Dick Cheney, now on a Middle East tour
intended to rally support for a possible US attempt to overthrow
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is expected in Israel March 18.
"For Sharon, what is going on with the Palestinians is bad and
bloody," says a European diplomat who also requested anonymity, "but
Iraq and Iran are strategic." The diplomat's idea is that Sharon
will do what he can to encourage any US plan to defang states in the
region that pose a major military threat to Israel.
Statements last week by President Bush and Secretary of State
Colin Powell suggest that the US is toning down its support for Mr.
Sharon's hardline tactics in countering the Palestinians' resistance
against Israeli occupation, but the substance of any shift will be
measured when Zinni arrives, perhaps by the end of the week.
The retired general is inserting himself into an increasingly
For two Saturdays in a row, Palestinian suicide bombers have
marked the end of the Jewish sabbath by detonating their explosives
in central Jerusalem. The two attacks alone took 21 Israeli lives.
But both attacks took place in the context of massive Israeli
incursions into Palestinian refugee camps. In operations lasting
several days as a time, Israeli forces have gone house-to-house in
several densely populated camps, killing scores of Palestinian
fighters and civilians.
The level of violence feels to some like a turning point. The
Israeli daily Ha'aretz editorialized yesterday that Israelis and
Palestinians may have hit the "point of attrition at which an
intitial compromise can be forged. …