WASHINGTON (Jun. 13)
Diplomats and activists are praising the coordination between the United States and European leaders in forging the latest cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
After six days of intensive negotiations, CIA Director George Tenet left the Middle East Wednesday with an agreement from both sides to resume security cooperation, end violence in the region and restore the situation on the ground to what it was before Palestinians began their uprising against Israel last September.
While all sides hoped for the best from the “Tenet working plan,” few were optimistic. State Department officials said the first 48 hours after the deal will be critical.
According to diplomatic sources, both sides have two days to take specific steps. Israel must start to redeploy its forces to where they were before violence began and ease roadblocks within the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority must take steps to combat terrorism, end anti-Israel incitement and collect mortars and other illegal weapons.
“It’s wonderful news that we’ve signed the document,” President Bush said in Brussels. “But the fundamental question is, will parties take steps to peace, concrete actions that will help build the confidence necessary so that peaceful-loving countries can say, ‘the cycle of violence has been finally broken,’ and then there is the opportunity to have political discussion.”
American Jewish organizations echoed those concerns, citing Arafat’s track record of broken peace agreements.
“Arafat should have no doubt that his only option is to abandon violence and honor the cease-fire agreement,” Tim Wuliger, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said in a statement.
While Bush’s European tour has cast a spotlight on those areas where Europe and the United States disagree — specifically missile defense and climate control — they worked in tandem to bring an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Analysts say European participation was critical to getting Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to agree to the cease-fire, as the united international front gave Arafat cover for his concessions, analysts said.
“Without it, you’re not going to get anywhere,” said Edward Walker, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and now president of the Middle East Institute.
The United States “opened the doors for regional consultation” after the failed Camp David talks last summer, said Walker, a former ambassador to Israel.
“The people at Camp David realized that one of the failings was, without a broad network of support, you get caught at the last minute and have no one to turn to” for support, he said.
Both American and Israeli officials credit this week’s agreement to the fact that Europe and the United States have been on the same diplomatic page in recent weeks. Specifically, they note the efforts of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who was meeting with Arafat when a Palestinian terrorist blew himself up outside a Tel Aviv disco on June 1, killing 20 Israelis.
The intense condemnation from Fischer — and the realization that Israel was preparing a massive retaliation that could threaten his regime — reportedly helped convince Arafat to call a cease fire.
Each time Arafat speaks to a European leader, the United States discusses the message beforehand. Fischer is said to have been carrying an “American message” to Arafat that made it clear he would not be able to continue sponsoring terrorism without facing international consequences.
“I have no doubt that if there hadn’t been U.S. and European coordination, Arafat may not have moved,” one Israeli official said.
But some American Jewish leaders remain concerned about European participation in peace discussions, given Europe’s traditional pro-Arab bent.
“Israel has always been wary of the E.U.’s role because they have always proved to be so biased,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Hoenlein said the European nations’ voting record in the United Nations shows their leanings. The best use of their influence is to back up American propositions that are presented to Arafat.
“If they want to play an effective role, they can bring Arafat closer to reality,” he said.