Part of Powell’s efforts to attain a cease-fire are an American performance meant to neutralize pressure by the Arab countries and Europe on the US to use all its power to stop the mounting violence. The truth is, had it not been for the American wish to bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein, it is doubtful whether Powell would even have come to the Middle East.
The US is trying to recruit the Arab countries for a military action against Iraq, but they say that as long as there is no end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is nothing to talk about. However, even if there were no such confrontation, or if it ended tomorrow, the US would still not receive the desired support.
The Powell mission has internal American aspects. It is understood that if he fails in his mission to attain a cease-fire, this would harm the image and standing of the US in the Middle East as well as elsewhere. However, there are certain people in the administration who would not weep at his stumbling, as he opposed in the past as well as today any use of power, including the plan to strike at Saddam Hussein.
The ability of the Bush administration to increase pressure on Israel is limited, in the light of the war the United States itself is waging against terror. The administration is sensitive to the issue of the time necessary for the completion of a military operation. Bush’s people, who served in his father’s administration, are aware of the fact that Bush senior did not finish up the Gulf War as was necessary and that today the US has to live with the consequences of this. When Sharon says that he cannot stop the Israeli military activity until it achieves its targets, the memory of the unfinished Gulf War comes up and works in favor of the Israeli position.
Recently, Bush himself as well as his people have been giving varying messages stemming from contradictions and constraints in the US position vis a vis the Palestinian-Israeli violence. The administration sees Arafat as the one directing and encouraging the terror, but outwardly describes him as a legitimate leader. Bush affirms Israel’s right to defend itself, and on the other hand calls on Israel immediately to withdraw its forces from the territories. All sides, not only Israel, are not acting according to American demands. And Bush is angry, not only at Sharon, but also with Arafat, who is not doing anything against the terror, and at Arab leaders, who are not pressuring him in this matter.
Thus the American room to maneuver is quite limited.
This article ran in Maariv on April 12th, 2002