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Former US Diplomat Pessimistic About Mideast Peace Prospects - 2002-05-01

A former U.S. diplomat says he is pessimistic about Mideast peace prospects without outside intervention. Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, spoke in Los Angeles Tuesday. Mr. Indyk, who is a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution, believes it is up to the United States to broker a settlement.

Mr. Indyk said recently he believes there is no peace process in the Middle East, just a war process. A Mideast scholar, he served two terms as U.S. ambassador to Israel, the second ending last year. He has also held senior posts at the State Department and the National Security Council.

Mr. Indyk says in the short-term, there is little room for optimism. "Part of the problem," he said, "is that the parties are so locked in a kind of death embrace that it is very hard to see how they could, left to their own devices, break out of it and move on to some more positive process of trying to resolve the problem. There is so much anger and hatred now unleashed on both sides by the violence and the terrorism that it is very difficult for them on their own to overcome that."

Last week, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah presented President Bush with an eight-point peace plan, which the White House described as "constructive." The Saudi official met with Mr. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The plan calls for renunciation of violence by all sides in the conflict, and for Israel to pull out of occupied territories in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure borders.

Mr. Indyk, who served as a Mideast peace strategist in the Clinton administration, addressed a civic group called Town Hall Los Angeles on Tuesday. He believes only a settlement imposed from outside can end the hostilities. He said, "I am afraid to say that in my own analysis, it is likely to get worse before it gets better, but the worse it gets, the more likely for that outside intervention. And then the question is, what can be done?"

Part of the current problem, in Mr. Indyk's view, is that Israel will not deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which makes communication between the two sides all but impossible. He continued, "It seems to me that what the international community, led by the United States, will have to do in the midst of a far deeper crisis is establish, through an international summit conference, a trusteeship for Palestine, announce the establishment of a state which is recognized by all, including Israel, and then establish a kind of international body which would hold the territories in trust while new effective democratic, accountable, transparent institutions are built for the Palestinian people."

Then, says Mr. Indyk, final borders could be negotiated for a Palestinian state.

The Saudi peace plan calls for an international peacekeeping force in the region. The United States has opposed the presence of an international force, especially one involving U.S. troops.

U.S. officials express confidence that a settlement can be found short of establishing an international trusteeship. However, U.S. officials are also expressing frustration. Speaking of the continuing Israeli occupation of some Palestinian towns, President Bush told reporters last week "it is time to end this."

One part of the conflict may be close to resolution. Under a plan proposed by President Bush, Mr. Arafat will be permitted to travel freely after six Palestinian militants who are wanted by Israel are transferred to a Palestinian prison. There they will be guarded by U.S. and British security personnel. Until the transfer is complete, Mr. Arafat remains under siege by Israeli troops at his West Bank headquarters.