Middle East matters

Powell firmness: Tough talk to both sides shows administration fed up with the status quo.

November 21, 2001

THE administration's new urgency for brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians is welcome. Its hands-off indifference was not getting the job done.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's address Monday at the University of Louisville had tough words for the Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat and for the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Each chose to agree with what Mr. Powell said about the other, rather than dispute what Mr. Powell requires of himself. So far, so good.

The only road to peace is commitment to coexistence of an Israel and a Palestine side by side. That requires substantial withdrawal by Israel, an end to terrorism by or on behalf of Palestinians, and the Arab world's recognition of Israel's right to exist.

Mr. Powell introduced no new concepts. He reiterated those that former President Clinton tried to impose with near success. He stuck with the timetable for building confidence devised by former Sen. George J. Mitchell.

The dispatch of Assistant Secretary of State William Burns to the region and the appointment of retired Gen. Anthony Zinni to replace CIA Director George J. Tenet in brokering security confidence-building was a sign of seriousness.

The Bush administration came to power as the un-Clinton in foreign policy. That Mr. Clinton was deeply involved in the process meant Mr. Bush would not be. But bad became worse on the ground, for ordinary Israelis and Palestinians alike. The unresolved crisis is a barrier to goals of U.S. policy.

Two things have changed as a result of the war that is not yet concluded in Afghanistan. One is that Arab members of the U.S. coalition impressed on the administration the harm done by the festering sore of violent extremism. The Bush team has taken this to heart.

The other is the growing perception that international terrorism may be on the ropes. It looks less attractive as the side to be on.

This reduces any hopes of Palestinian leaders and nearby regimes of what might be achieved through terrorism that denies Israel's existence. Reaching an accord with a neighbor that is not going away suddenly appears a more reasonable goal.

Mr. Powell's heightened urgency and steely determination are the new elements in the equation. As long as they remain the administration's message, good things are possible.

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