Powell blunt with both sides in outlining Mideast policy

Arab world told to accept Jewish state

Israel urged to stop `occupation'

November 20, 2001|By Mark Matthews and Peter Hermann | Mark Matthews and Peter Hermann,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Declaring that Israel's "occupation" of Palestinian territory must end, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called yesterday for a return to a peace process aimed at finally ending the 50-year conflict and offered U.S. help to monitor a cease-fire.

In his first major foreign policy address, Powell spelled out in the most comprehensive way to date how the Bush administration envisions a peace agreement taking shape in the Middle East, saying both sides need to face "some fundamental truths."

Powell used some of the bluntest language of any U.S. diplomat in a decade, adopting the term "occupation" to describe the Israeli military presence in the West Bank and Gaza and saying Jewish settlements "cripple" the chances for peace.

He demanded acceptance of Israel as Jewish state by the Arab world and acceptance by Israel of a "viable" Palestinian state. He implicitly rejected Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem and said a settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue had to be both "just" - meaning a recognition of some Palestinian rights - and "realistic" - suggesting that the refugees can't return en masse to Israel.

Speaking at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Powell said violence and terror had to end before serious talks could begin. He announced that he is sending two envoys to the region this week to consult with leaders on both sides and work to secure a cease-fire: William Burns, assistant secretary of state for the Near East, and retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni.

He said Zinni would remain in the region to work on a cease-fire previously outlined by CIA Director George Tenet. This will require that Palestinians achieve "real results - not just words and declarations" in preventing terror and punishing perpetrators, he said.

Powell also said the United States "remains ready" to join in an outside "monitoring and verification mechanism" that both sides can accept.

Once a cease-fire takes hold, he said, the United States would work "urgently" with Europe to rebuild the Palestinian economy, shattered by a year of conflict, as it pursues a plan for a return to negotiations spelled out by a panel led by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

Powell's speech follows a new Middle East peace initiative that was signaled 10 days ago by President Bush in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Bush sketched a vision of peace for the region in which Israel and Palestinians can live together side by side and for the first time used the Palestinians' name for their hoped-for country, Palestine.

Until recently, the administration had been reluctant to commit itself to the full-scale diplomatic effort required to get a new peace process under way. Mindful of former President Bill Clinton's dogged but futile effort, and the hardened positions among Israelis and Palestinians after more than a year of bloodshed, administration officials held off spelling out a long-term strategy until violence had stopped.

The Bush administration's initiative gained urgency in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the U.S.-led war to destroy Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network in Afghanistan and other countries.

The administration has come under strong pressure from allies in the Arab world to show stronger determination to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This pressure is likely to continue if the United States seeks to build international support for ousting the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Bush, speaking to reporters at the White House, said groundwork must be laid before the two sides are ready to negotiate seriously. "People must say that they want to work for peace. And so our objective is to convince both parties to make a conscious decision to come to the peace table."

Powell's speech offered incentives to and criticism of both sides. For Israelis, Powell showed empathy with their grievances, saying, "The lynching of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, the assassination of the Cabinet minister and the killing of Israeli children feed Israelis' deepest doubts about whether Palestinians really want peace.

"The endless messages of incitement and hatred of Israelis and Jews that pour out of the media in so much of the Palestinian and Arab worlds only reinforces those fears," he said. "The incitement must stop."

But because the United States has demanded repeatedly that the Palestinians halt violence and terror aimed at Israelis and quell incitement, Powell appeared to offer few new incentives to Israel.

For Palestinians, the speech offered incentives and important rhetorical gestures that may be interpreted as a bid to win over Arab public opinion.

Powell said the occupation "has been the defining reality" of Palestinian lives for 30 years, adding that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians "have grown up with checkpoints and raids and indignities."

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