US Rebuffs Peres Initiatives

debkafile ‘s Washington sources confirm our previous assessment of US administration reluctance to involve itself directly in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at this stage, beyond the understandings reached between the White House and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon last February. The Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres’s solo initiatives therefore failed to strike an answering chord when he met secretary of state Colin Powell Wednesday night. He will probably get the same blank reception when he calls on President George W. Bush at the White House later today.
Urged by Peres to bring the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat round to consenting to a ceasefire, Powell countered that it is up to the parties to reach a ceasefire themselves through a reduction in the current level of violence. Only after the belligerents come to terms, will the US step in.
Powell surprised his Israeli visitor with the news that the Mitchell Commission examining the causes of eruption of violence last September submitted its findings on April 30, the day Peres landed in New York. Copies will be sent to the parties for their comments. The US secretary indicated that after those comments were submitted, the administration would judge the fitness of the report’s findings as a basis for future Israel-Palestinian exchanges. In particular Washington sought a resumption of the security coordination mechanisms for cooling clashes.
For Washington, that direction supersedes the Egyptian-Jordanian peace plan Peres is promoting with strong European backing. In any case, Powell saw little point in spending time on a peace plan that, according to Washington’s information, Arafat would never accept – even after Peres argued it was espoused by the Egyptian president, the Jordanian king and even the Syrian president Assad. The Israeli foreign minister revealed that Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa was dispatched to Damascus to solicit Assad’s aid in persuading Arafat to cut down the violence. He not only assented but ordered the Hizballah in Lebanon to refrain from military provocations along the Lebanese-Israeli frontier. If the United States joined this initiative, Peres maintained, Israel-Syrian peace talks might begin too on a parallel track.
The US secretary brushed those arguments aside.
debkafile‘s political sources evaluate the Peres-Powell encounter as confirming that the Bush administration has thus far opted for prime minister Sharon’s line against the return-to-Oslo track advocated by Peres, for as long as Sharon sticks to his understandings with the White House. Sharon is constrained from launching major military offensives against the Palestinians, or permitting Israeli raider forces from execute any but limited incursions into Palestinian-rule A Areas, as long as they pull out after operations.

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