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Analysts: Violence Preventing Revival of Mideast Peace Process - 2003-10-17

After more than three years of raging violence between Israel and the Palestinians some Middle East specialists are saying now is not the time for the United States and other countries to revive the peace process.

In a conflict that has killed nearly 2,500 Palestinians and more than 800 Israelis, these analysts say the continuing bloodshed has overwhelmed the proposed road map to peace and jeopardized all efforts to stop the carnage.

Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who is now the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says there is virtually no chance to make progress on the road map while violence rages in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The road map, supported by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, was designed as a step-by-step peace plan leading to a Palestinian state by 2005.

Mr. Ross says while Israel and the Palestinians appeared close to a peace agreement during the Camp David summit in July of 2000, there is no reason at this time to bring both sides back to the bargaining table.

"Three years ago we were talking about making peace. You have to understand where we are today. We are talking about ending a war," he said. "The intifada started as an uprising and it got transformed into a war and that is what we have had for the last three years."

Rabbi Michael Melchior, a member of the Israeli Knesset or parliament, was a strong supporter of the Oslo peace accords and was closely involved in the Camp David negotiations.

He agrees with Dennis Ross that now is not the time to renew the peace process. "We cannot come with an overall peace solution now at this stage. We should not even attempt it," he said. "Because every time we attempt it and we fail, the despair and the frustration and the lack of hope is opening then again for the extremist elements to be much more dominant."

Yossi Alpher is a former senior official of Israel's intelligence agency Mossad, and was director of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Mr. Alpher says Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat has undermined efforts by Israel and the United States to support other Palestinian leaders who want to end violence and advance the peace process.

"It failed because it was not successful in replacing Arafat's leadership with a Palestinian prepared to approach the conflict differently and capable of doing so," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, reacting to the recent deaths of three Americans during an attack in the Gaza Strip, said there will be no forward movement to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without eliminating violence and terrorism.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the bloodshed is harming efforts to implement the road map. "And so, we've made clear, I think, over the past few weeks that we believe we've come to the juncture where we have moved forward, but that the failure to address these problems of violence is preventing further progress," he said.

Israel is currently constructing a controversial security barrier along the West Bank designed to prevent Palestinian militants from carrying out suicide attacks.

Palestinians call the fence an "apartheid wall" and an attempt by the Jewish state to seize Palestinian land. Dennis Ross spent more than 12 years negotiating with Israel and the Palestinians while playing a major role in developing U-S policy in the Middle East.

The former U.S. diplomat says he now backs what he calls a default strategy toward the peace process that accepts construction of the barrier.

Mr. Ross supports such a position reluctantly because, he says, the wall reflects a failure of diplomacy, but in the current bleak environment represents the only viable chance of reducing the violence.

"Now the critical thing here is to build it in a way that makes it possible still to have a political solution," he said. "What that means is three criteria have got to govern how you approach the fence. One is security, building it in a topographical way that makes it difficult to infiltrate into Israel. Two is demographics, trying to preserve Israel as a Jewish state and that means you cannot be building this in a way that absorbs Palestinians into the state. And three is preserving a political solution, which means the Israelis have to get out of Palestinian lives so that they are not controlling Palestinian lives so you reduce the pool of anger and alienation. But also so the Palestinians still have an incentive to negotiate."

In addition to building the security barrier, Israel is also planning to erect walls around some Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinians say building these fences will harm efforts to create boundaries for a future, independent Palestinian state.

Israeli officials argue the fence does not represent a political border and can be taken down if a permanent peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians.

With no such agreement in sight, analysts see the tangled cycle of violence and revenge continuing for the foreseeable future.