U.S. names new envoy to Mideast

Worsening violence forces U.S. toward old role as broker

Powell calls for cease-fire

U.S. backs report by Mitchell panel, settlement freeze

May 22, 2001|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Driven by worsening bloodshed in the Middle East, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell edged the Bush administration a step closer yesterday toward the peace broker role it has tried to avoid, naming a special assistant to try to stop Israelis and Palestinians from killing one another.

Powell said the Palestinians should make "an all-out effort" to end attacks on Israelis and called on Israel to stop expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

William Burns, the current U.S. ambassador to Jordan and nominee as assistant secretary of state for the Near East, will "make himself available" to help in reaching a cease-fire, Powell said at a State Department news conference. In his role as special assistant, Burns will report to Powell and to President Bush.

Serving as a framework is a report published yesterday by an international commission headed by former Sen. George J. Mitchell of Maine. The report - which was endorsed yesterday by the Bush administration and had been generally endorsed earlier by Israeli and Palestinian leaders - calls for an immediate halt to violence, a freeze on Israeli settlements, economic assistance for Palestinians and a crackdown on extremists by the Palestinian Authority.

Careful not to tacitly endorse violence as a political tool by either side, Powell said a cease-fire should occur unconditionally - with conciliatory gestures by both sides to come later.

"We cannot keep going in this direction," Powell said of the violence, which in recent days has included a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed six Israelis outside a shopping mall and a retaliatory strike by Israeli F-16 fighter jets that killed 11 Palestinian police officers. "We all understand that lives are being lost, and this is not the time to sit and point fingers."

Violence continued yesterday as Israeli helicopters fired rockets at what Israel described as a mortar factory near Gaza City. Palestinians said the building was a car parts factory. Separately, two Palestinians died in a border clash with Israeli troops.

Besides endorsing the report by the Mitchell commission, Powell said Burns and other U.S. mediators will consider elements of a Jordanian-Egyptian peace proposal, which also recommends a settlement freeze.

Summoning memories of the first Bush administration, which threatened to revoke U.S. loan guarantees if Israel did not halt settlement expansion, Powell blamed Israel for "the difficulties associated with settlement activity" and said settlements are "the key element that has to be dealt with."

In another instance of U.S. pressure on Israel, U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk criticized Israel yesterday for firing on the West Bank home of a Palestinian security chief.

"Those who would stop the violence - Palestinian police or the head of the Palestinian security organization in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub - are being hit, bombed, shelled, killed by the Israeli Defense Forces," Indyk said in a speech in Jerusalem.

Israel said its forces were responding to fire and did not intend to assassinate Rajoub.

Speaking in New York yesterday, Mitchell pointed to "a growing sense of futility and despair, and a growing resort to violence" by both sides. "The greatest danger of all is that the culture of peace, nurtured over the previous decade, is being shattered," he said.

The commission, created as part of an October cease-fire agreement that was almost immediately broken, analyzed the factors behind the Israeli-Palestinian violence that started nearly eight months ago.

Though a Sept. 28 visit by Israel's Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem's Temple Mount did not cause the strife, the commission found, the event was poorly timed and should have been seen as provocative to Palestinians. Sharon, then out of power, is now Israel's prime minister.

Both Powell and the Mitchell commission called for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed last year after the failed Camp David summit presided over by President Bill Clinton.

But nobody expects negotiations to resume while the fighting continues. The first task of Burns, Israel and the Palestinians, Powell said, is to stop the killing.

"The United States is prepared to work closely with the parties to develop a framework and time line to implement the [Mitchell] report's recommendations, including the return to negotiations," Powell said. "But negotiations cannot start in this current situation of intense violence and a total lack of confidence and trust between the two parties."

If violence stops and the scene is set for new negotiations, Powell suggested that he might seek a higher profile in the region.

"I will determine what more I might do in a personal way to promote the process and to help with the reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians and to keep the process moving forward," he said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.