Israelis and Palestinians are welcoming U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's vision of a peaceful Middle East, but some analysts are questioning whether his policy speech will result in an end to more than 13 months of bloodshed and a return to peace talks. Both sides are expressing hope that increased American involvement in the region will have a positive impact.
Secretary of State Powell said during his speech Monday that he is sending two U.S. envoys to the Middle East in an effort to stop the violence and revive the peace process.
State Department envoy William Burns and retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni will lead the renewed American effort to bring calm to the region.
Herb Keinon, the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Post newspaper, says the timing is significant. He says there are signs Palestinian President Yasser Arafat wants to stop the bloodshed. "Now, I think that intelligence information that the Americans are hearing is such that they think Arafat, at this point, will be willing to have a cease-fire," he said. "They are hearing the lieutenants, people close to Arafat, are saying after 13 months of an intifada, which hasn't brought us anything, it is time to bring an end to this."
Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, praised Mr. Powell's call for Israel to end its occupation and Jewish settlement building in the Palestinian territories.
Mr. Powell also said the current Palestinian uprising is "mired in the quicksand of self-defeating violence," and that Mr. Arafat must arrest militants involved in attacks against Israelis.
Mr. Shikaki says it is difficult for the Palestinian leader to gain public support for reigning in militant groups without being able to show that significant progress is being made in the peace process. "Mr. Arafat does not have the support of the population," he said. "Today, less than one third of the Palestinians give him that support. He needs, and needs badly, that kind of viable, political process that Palestinians can accept and, based on it, show willingness to withhold support from those who continue to use violence against Israelis. Because they are frustrated, and they have reached the conclusion that only through the use of force can the Israeli occupation be ended."
Secretary Powell was sharply critical of Israel's continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He said that the Jewish state must end the occupation of those territories captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post says the Israeli government was not surprised by the statements, but he says because the issues were highlighted in a major policy address, they are likely to get renewed attention. "Obviously, there is the settlement freeze and the occupation," said Herb Keinon. "But these are not necessarily new things from the American administration. These are not things that surprised Israel, that Israel has not heard in the past. What is new here was the public forum and the unequivocal way in which he mentioned it."
Palestinian pollster and analyst Khalil Shikaki says most people he has talked with were left with a positive impression after Mr. Powell's speech.
Mr. Shikaki says, however, the policy address is not likely to convince the Palestinians to end the current confrontation with Israel. "The question, however, that remains after all of this is whether, in fact, it will be effective, whether, in fact, it will bring about an end to the violence, that it will bring about a cessation of hostilities by both sides, and it will bring them back to the negotiating table," said Khalil Shikaki. "That, I believe, is the crux of the matter. And, at this point, I am not very optimistic that the speech had in it sufficient ingredients to be able to bring the two sides together again."
In preparation for the arrival of the U.S. envoys, Israel and the Palestinians are to name high-ranking teams for truce talks.
The U.S. envoys will try to help both sides implement the recommendations of an international commission that proposed a cease-fire, a cooling-off period and confidence building measures leading to new peace negotiations.