U.S. playing low-key role in latest Mideast crisis
March 25, 1997
Web posted at: 4:59 p.m. EST (2159 GMT)
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From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- For nearly a week, scenes of violence
between Israelis and Palestinians have been repeated in
Bethlehem and Hebron. Noticeably absent, though, are the
American Middle East peace brokers who are usually so visible
in such crises.
"I think Washington is assessing now what the best time would
be for stepped up engagement," said Martin Indyk, U.S.
ambassador to Israel. "But they'll make that decision in
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has refused to
break off his tour of South Asia or take calls from
Washington in the midst of the latest Middle East crisis,
leading to an American perception that Arafat himself is
indifferent to the growing danger in the region.
At the very least, the United States seems peeved with him.
"Chairman Arafat is not in Gaza, he's traveling around the
world, and therefore one critical player in this process is
not available to us at the moment," Indyk said.
The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's
government to proceed with construction of a Jewish housing
project in Arab East Jerusalem -- and two U.S. vetoes
of U.N. resolutions that would have condemned Israel for the
project -- also have left Arafat and the Palestinians angry
with President Clinton.
"We have a U.S. administration that's seeking to see the
process as crisis management here and there," said Saeb
Erakat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator. "They're not
telling Mr. Netanyahu to stop it."
While street clashes continue, there is a behind-the-scenes
effort to arrange a summit meeting between Netanyahu and
But Arafat says he doesn't want a meeting with no results,
and the Israelis are demanding a summit that focuses on
terrorism -- a club that Israel is increasingly using against
Some in Israel have charged that Arafat, while not directly
ordering or even condoning the attack, created an atmosphere
or gave a "green light" for members of the radical Hamas
organization to carry it out.
While the U.S. refused to fault Arafat for the bombing, the
American government is demanding he make it absolutely clear
to his people that he will not tolerate terrorism.
"Unless the green light is turned into a red light, unless
there's a clear message (from) Mr. Arafat to stop terrorism,
there can't be any peace process," said Dore Gold, senior
adviser to Netanyahu.
Meanwhile on Monday, Israel's ambassador to Washington,
Eliahu Ben-Elissar, met with Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright to discuss Friday's bombing.
They also covered in a 45-minute conversation "the best ways
to put the peace process back on track," said Israeli Embassy
spokesman Gadi Baltiansky. He described the atmosphere as
"very friendly" but declined to provide further details. U.S.
officials declined to elaborate on the talks.
A senior administration official, meanwhile, says senior U.S.
mediator Dennis Ross has no plans to travel to the region to
attempt personally to put the peace process back on track.
Last week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv has produced
increasing Israeli criticism of the Clinton administration,
especially after Washington cleared Arafat of blame for the
bombing. That decision left some Israelis furious.
"The president of the United States has a role in the next
terror attack," said one Israeli editorial. "When we bury the
next to die here, we will remember who stood on the other
The outlook seems bleak. Positions have hardened on both the
Israeli and Palestinian sides. The sharing of intelligence
that could have helped stop terrorism has halted. Just as
alarming, mainstream Palestinian groups have called for a new
struggle and confrontation with Israel.
State Department Correspondent Steve Hurst contributed to
- At least 8 injured in West Bank clashes - March 25, 1997
- Palestinian police move to restore order in Hebron - March 24, 1997
- Mideast peace process: dead, or merely ailing? - March 24, 1997
- Netanyahu: Fighting terrorism 'first condition for peace' - March 23, 1997
- Israelis, Palestinians trade blame for new wave of violence - March 22, 1997
- Palestinian security arrests Hamas leader - March 22, 1997
- U.S. again vetoes U.N. resolution on Israeli housing - March 21, 1997
- Bomber, 3 women killed in Tel Aviv blast - March 21, 1997
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