The World Watches
by Charlie Keenan
In the wake of the most recent suicide bombings in Israel, world leaders have united in calling for the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the bargaining table.
U.S. President George W. Bush condemned the bombings, and said both sides need to cooperate effectively with security issues before the U.S. will increase involvement. He sent U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East in mid-April to work out a cease-fire.
"America is committed to ending this conflict," Bush told reporters recently.
The President urged Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to stop the suicide bombings. He called on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pull his military forces out of the Palestinian territories. While both men have tentatively agreed to Bush's demands, neither has acted on their promises.
While the United States is getting more involved, some say it might be too little too late. Observers say the European Union believes Washington has lost its influence, pointing to the recent Palestinian suicide bombings that prompted the Israeli offensive on March 29.
The European Union is now pushing for a broader group of countries to become involved in the peace process. Historically, the United States and Israel have rejected European participation.
Already, there's an international effort afoot. Powell met with world leaders at a recent conference of U.S., European, Russian, and United Nations officials in Madrid, Spain.
"We call for an immediate, meaningful cease-fire and an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities," said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan at that meeting.
Still, putting an end to the bloodshed won't be easy. Sharon says he will not discuss peace until the bombings have stopped and Arafat has left the country. Arafat says the Israelis must stop raids on Palestinian towns and pull all military forces out of Palestinian territories. Palestinians say they are an occupied nation. Israel says it has a right to protect its citizens from further violence. Neither side appears willing to take the first step necessary to begin peace talks.
But Powell, on his visit to the Middle East to talk with Israeli and Arab leaders, says a meeting of lower level ministers from the region might be possible. That way, Sharon and Arafat would not have to meet, something Sharon has said he will not do for any reason.
"We've got to move quickly to a political track," Powell says. Having a meeting of administrative personnel is "a way to get the parties together and talking."