Powell: Sharon Will Decide When Lull is Enough

President Bush said Tuesday that the two sides, Israel and the Palestinians, will have to decide when the violence has subsided enough to go back to the conference table. A day later, his secretary of state, Colin Powell, declared that the decision would be up to prime minister Ariel Sharon. Why the contradiction?
debkafile‘s political analysts assure us there is no contradiction. The issue is simply not relevant to immediate US goals in relation to the conflict. The Bush administration is not overly concerned over this or that particular of the first stage of the Mitchell timeline, namely the length of the ceasefire, after hearing the Israeli prime minister say he does not intend responding to the present level of Palestinian violence with a large-scale military assault. This gives all the Americans enough leeway to pick their way to the next stage of Mitchell without the menace of a regional war hanging over their heads. Having removed that threat by his promise, Sharon could confidently assert that a Middle East war had receded. Both President Bush and prime minister Sharon were therefore quite comfortable about their seeming spat in the White House Tuesday; it impressed the media and Israelis back home with their prime minister’s fighting stance, while giving the US president what he wants on the larger issue.
In any case both sides are committed to the recommendations drawn up by Senator George Mitchell for talking their way out of the crisis. The length of each stage is a detail that can be safely left to the Israeli prime minister.
Having weathered the popular disaffection aroused by his military inaction after the Tel Aviv disco massacre and highway killings of settlers, Sharon feels confident enough to move forward in harmony with Washington.
The only party capable of upsetting this amity is Yasser Arafat. Already, even as Colin Powell goes the rounds in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Palestinians are edging up the level of their attacks, to the tune of the diplomats’ acclaim of the relative pause in hostilities. Wednesday, Palestinian fire opened up on the Har Homa project in South Jerusalem, the day after they shot up an armored bus passing Al Khader on the Tunnel Road out of Jerusalem and opened heavy fire on the Jewish Quarter of Hebron. Eight Israelis were injured. debkafile‘s military sources say that worse is in store. They do not rule out fresh outbreaks of gunfire against Gilo. Friday, the US Secretary is due to head out to Amman to see King Abdullah and on to Paris to meeting Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
Palestinian opinion is heavily behind continuing the hostilities Yasser Arafat launched nine months ago. According to a new opinion poll prepared by Palestinian Jerusalem Media, 53 percent of Palestinians oppose the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords signed with Israel, more than 68 pc believe the suicide bombings should go on and 41 percent demand the full “liberation” of “all Palestinian lands”. “Liberation”, as distinct from restoration, is the commonly understood term for forcible recovery, while “all Palestinian lands” refers to the places lost – not in the 1967 conflict, but in the 1948 War, namely Haifa, Jaffa, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Lod, Ramle and Galilee sites.

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