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Cheney Concludes Visit to Israel Without the Long-sought Cease-fire

March 20, 2002
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U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney concluded his whirlwind visit to Israel this week without a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat — and without the satisfaction of presiding over an elusive cease-fire.

Throughout his 24-hour visit, one of the last legs of an 11-country Middle East tour, Cheney focused on the need for peace.

“Peace is not only possible, but necessary,” he said in his opening remarks at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday.

The highest-ranking Bush administration official to visit Israel, Cheney met twice with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

He did not meet with Arafat, to the dismay of the Palestinians.

Cheney said he did not want to act as a messenger between Israel and the Palestinians, but that the decision shouldn’t be interpreted that “somehow we are ignoring the Palestinian people.”

He did, however, say that he would be willing to meet with Arafat at a later date if a cease-fire was implemented.

“I want to emphasize how important it is for Arafat to achieve a cease-fire this week,” Cheney said at a news conference with Sharon on Tuesday morning.

Cheney’s visit coincided with U.S. Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni’s efforts to bring about a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians.

There were several incidents of violence during Cheney’s visit, including an attack on an Israeli army post in the Jordan Valley, in which one officer was killed and three soldiers wounded.

First Lt. Tal Zemach, 20 was buried Tuesday afternoon in the Kibbutz Hulda cemetery.

Later in the day, at least two border police officers were injured in a terrorist attack near Beit Shemesh, inside Israel.

Shortly afterward, Israeli President Moshe Katsav told Israel television that the next 24 hours would test the willingness of the Palestinian Authority and its president, Arafat, to end violence against Israel.

“The time has come to tell him this is the end of the game, it’s time to decide,” Katsav said of Arafat.

On Monday night, Israel began pulling out of Bethlehem and Beit Jala as well as the northern Gaza Strip, signaling Israel’s willingness to bring about a cease-fire.

Israel Defense Forces units continued to surround several Palestinian towns and cities, due to high alerts for terror attacks.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops killed three armed Palestinians in two separate incidents overnight Monday in Gaza.

In one incident, a Palestinian armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and hand-grenades was shot dead on the road as he reportedly was crossing into Israel.

In the second incident, soldiers chased five Palestinians trying to penetrate the Gush Katif settlement bloc. Two of the Palestinians were killed, while the others escaped.

The decision to withdraw from the Palestinian areas came after meetings between Israeli and Palestinian security officials Sunday night.

Those discussions were followed by a meeting of a high-level Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. security committee in Jerusalem on Monday, mediated by Zinni.

In a statement, Zinni called the discussions “professional, serious and constructive,” and said the sides “discussed a variety of issues related to the implementation of the Tenet security work plan.”

IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz said in an Israeli television interview, “We have to give every opportunity to achieve a cease-fire.”

During Cheney’s first meeting with Sharon on Monday night, the two leaders discussed cease-fire efforts, as well as the next stage in the U.S. war on terrorism.

Following the meeting, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the two men discussed “regional and local issues of common interest to the two states.”

Cheney met with Sharon again on Tuesday morning, following a meeting with the expanded “kitchen Cabinet,” which included Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky.

At their joint news conference Tuesday morning, Cheney said, “We’ve discussed ways of ending the terror in this region and opportunities to advance ways of achieving a cease-fire.

“The U.S. will do whatever it can,” he said.

Sharon echoed Cheney’s comments, saying, “I’ll make every effort that Israel achieves peace and security, and every effort to achieve a cease-fire according to the Tenet plan.”

Sharon also said that he would allow Arafat to travel to Beirut for an Arab summit next week if the Tenet plan is implemented. However, he hinted, Arafat might not be allowed back to the West Bank if he delivers a speech at the summit that incites anger against Israel.

The summit is expected to focus on a Saudi plan that calls on the Arab world to normalize ties with Israel if Israel withdraws from all the territory it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

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