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In the five months of violence, at least 331 Palestinians, 61 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed.

Palestinian demonstrators burn a defaced portrait of President Bush to protest U.S. air strikes against Iraq. Sunday, Feb. 25, 2001, Ramallah. Nasser Nasser

Middle East

Colin Powell and the Burning Bush

by Chuck 45

FEBRUARY 26, 2001. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is tackling his whirlwind "listening" tour of the Middle East like some American tourists tackle Europe: six countries in four days, including 2 hours for Jordan on Sunday, 2 hours and 40 minutes for Syria on Monday, and 2 hours and 40 minutes for Saudi Arabia on Monday night.

Sunday morning, Powell took in Palestine and Israel. Both countries are still enduring the violence sparked when the controversial right-wing Israeli hawk Ariel Sharon visited a hotly contested Jerusalem holy site in late September, and Israeli security forces subsequently shot and killed Palestinians protesting the visit. In the five months since then, at least 331 Palestinians, 61 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed.

Israeli Hawks
A cease-fire and the resumption of peace talks interrupted by the violence doesn't seem likely any time soon. After his meeting with now Prime Minister-elect Sharon, Powell told the press, "What I think we all agreed on in our earlier meetings is that once calm is restored, once there is economic activity again, once security coordination has begun again, [Sharon] is committed to negotiation."

sharonIn other words, never. Demanding complete calm prior to talks leaves negotiations hostage to one man with a gun, a kid with a rock, or stick. Without negotiations, Israel will not remove the tanks and barricades between the Palestinian enclaves, and economic activity cannot resume. Without negotiations, forget coordinating security. Which doesn't bother Sharon at all. Especially if it keeps the fat U.S. nose out of his business.

On Thursday, Sharon told a group of American Jewish leaders that in the past "too much focus was placed on the (Israeli-Palestinian) peace process, which is very important, but as a result bilateral relations suffered." He added, "We must concentrate on those common issues between Israel and the United States," including a coordinated struggle against terrorism.

Perhaps they could begin at home. Amnesty International released a report last week documenting Israel's deliberate policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders, no matter who gets caught in the crossfire.

Hot for Saddam
Sharon needn't worry. George W. Bush has no intention of boosting the endless no-win Israeli-Palestinian peace process either, not when he's itching to resume his father's Middle Eastern policy and bomb the crap out of Saddam Hussein.

Bush's boys will only press for an opening of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations if the conflict triggers a regional war and screws with American oil allies such as Saudi Arabia.

In The Jerusalem Post, senior Arafat adviser Bassam Abu Sharif was quoted as saying, "Powell is going to the Middle East despite the fact that the U.S. decided not to get involved [in peacemaking] so early because the situation is deteriorating quickly, not only in Palestine, but in the entire region." He also said darkly that, "The U.S. has information that an Arab mass movement might erupt to break the economic siege of the Palestinian areas."

Even if that were true, and Bush was forced to get involved, he may not have much clout. American arm-twisting is becoming more and more unwelcome, especially after the U.S. forced Israel to scuttle a $250 million sale of a Phalcon airborne early-warning system to both China and India last year.

Some Israeli politicians are tired of Washington forcing them to prioritize U.S. national concerns over Israel's without a quid pro quo like stopping Russian nuclear assistance to Iran. And many Israeli business people are eager to free their burgeoning defense industry from American tutelage, even if it means losing the $3 billion a year in U.S. aid.

Given Sharon's demands, Bush's hands-off policy, and the fact that American pilots are again bombing their fellow Muslims in Iraq, Palestinians on the street were unimpressed with Powell's visit.

powellSunday, as Powell and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talked in Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, in the Gaza Strip nearly 2,500 demonstrators chanted "Colin Powell go home..." A few burnt flags, effigies of Sharon, xeroxes of Powell's face, and a few posters of George W.

Israel's continuing blockades in the West Bank and Gaza Strip particularly enrage the three million Palestinians who live there. Farmers can't get their crops to market. There's no commerce. In fact, from the Palestinian point of view, the blockades point out one of the chief weakness of the last peace deal on the table.

While the 90 percent of the West Bank offered to the Palestinians was the best deal yet, it is important to remember the land was noncontiguous, a bit here, a bit there, with the roads in between at the mercy of Israeli tanks. And any Israeli worried about their own national security must surely understand why a defenseless, entirely fragmented territory will probably never be acceptable to Palestinians.

Related Links

For a bonanza of Middle East and Israeli links from The Jerusalem Post.

For B', the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, including a position paper on Israel's Assassination Policy.

For Amnesty International's report on Israel and the Occupied Territories: State Assassinations and Other Unlawful Killings.

For the site of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN includes history, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Middle East Peace Process, and resources.

For Complete Coverage Asia

For Complete Coverage U.S. Politics

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