Mideast Peace Envoy Intends to Stay
- Mideast Peace Envoy Intends to Stay
By Karin Laub
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, December 1, 2001; 3:51 AM
JERUSALEM After the first week of his open-ended Mideast truce mission,
Anthony Zinni had Israelis and Palestinians in rare agreement the U.S.
mediator, a plain-talking, no-nonsense general, is giving both sides a fair
In his get-acquainted meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the eagerly anticipated ex-marine
delivered a simple message: he doesn't intend to fail and will stay in the
region until his job is done.
Despite Zinni's determination, there is little optimism on either side that
Zinni will succeed where an impressive list of American, European and Arab
predecessors have failed.
Since his arrival, there has been an upsurge in the violence that has raged
for 14 months; seven Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, and
seven Palestinians have also died, including four assailants and three
killed by Israeli army fire in other incidents.
Israel's Channel Two TV quoted Sharon aides as saying the general's mission
is doomed from the start because Arafat has no intention of making efforts
to prevent attacks, and it appears Zinni does not have a sufficient mandate
to force his hand.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat praised Zinni's straightforward
style and fairness, saying that a mediator's personality can contribute
greatly to the success of a mission, but that "at the end of the day, we
know it is Israelis and Palestinians who must make the deal."
Both sides have tried to make their case to Zinni as persuasively as
possible by showing him around the area.
Sharon, a fellow general, took Zinni on a helicopter trip over Israel and
the West Bank while delivering a lecture on Israel's security needs.
During the trip, Zinni got a first-hand look at Israel's vulnerability to
attacks by Palestinian militants. Moments after Palestinian gunmen opened
fire in the northern town of Afula, killing two Israelis before being shot
dead by security forces, Sharon directed the helicopter toward the scene,
allowing his guest to witness the aftermath of the attack from the air.
"He (Sharon) provided him with aerial photographs, maps and topographical
data," wrote commentator Hemi Shalev in the Maariv daily Friday. "By the
end of the week, Sharon's aides spoke about the chemistry that had been
created between the two, about the common language of generals."
Erekat accompanied Zinni on a brief tour of the West Bank designed to
highlight the other side of the story.
Setting out from Erekat's office in the Palestinian town of Jericho, the
convoy passed by a Palestinian refugee camp and a construction site in an
Israeli settlement in the West Bank, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Erekat said he drew Zinni's attention to the settlement construction on
land the Palestinians want for their state, and told him that "this is what
makes Palestinians lose hope in peace."
The U.S. visitors passed through three Israeli military checkpoints during
the 45-minute trip from Jericho to the West Bank town of Ramallah, a
30-mile trip. There, Zinni an Arabic speaker joined Arafat for Iftar,
the sundown meal that breaks the daylong fast during the Muslim holy month
Zinni later said he "had the opportunity first-hand to see the difficulties
presented to the Palestinians by the current situation."
Erekat said Zinni has come well-prepared, even though the envoy kept
insisting he had a lot to learn. "The man knows the area," Erekat said. "He
was so humble."
Zinni, who is close to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, served in the
Middle East for nearly a decade, including four years as the top U.S.
military commander in the area. He studied Arabic and Middle East history
and politics, and traveled extensively through the region.
But some Israeli commentators said that despite his impressive background,
Zinni wasn't ready to plunge into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"He is very nice, an officer and a gentleman," said Emanuel Rosen, a
Channel Two reporter accompanying Sharon on his current U.S. trip. But, he
added, citing views in the Sharon entourage, "it can't work that way."
"Until now, the Americans are reprimanding here and reprimanding there, but
are creating the impression that this mission is much more appropriate for
a dispute which is much more peaceful than what is happening in the region."
Almost 800 Palestinians and more than 200 Israelis have died in fighting
that broke out despite an ambitious peace effort a year ago. Several
cease-fire plans and agreements have failed to take hold, and distrust is
high on both sides.
© 2001 The Associated Press