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Immediate ceasefire essential in Mideast



Published: Tue, May 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The unholy holy war must stop.

As Israelis and Palestinians push themselves and each other to the precipice of war, both sides have no real choice but to back away from the violence and take seriously the recommendations of a five-person international panel chaired by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. As bitter a pill it may be for the Israelis to stop building settlements on the West Bank, it is a necessary concession. But such an act by Israel must be met with an end to the terrorist acts and the inflammatory speech by Palestinians and their leaders.

Observing the anniversary last week of Israel's founding as a Palestinian day of mourning is not the act of a people intent on living in peace. The attempt yesterday to blow up a bus of Israeli schoolchildren cannot be justified. Suicide bombings at shopping malls should not confer martyrdom on their perpetrators.

Nor can the Israelis reduce Palestinian homes and offices to rubble in retaliation. Two wrongs will never make a right.

The Mitchell committee's report recommends an immediate ceasefire, a freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements, resumption of joint security cooperation and the denunciation of terrorism. Further, the Palestinian Authority should prevent Palestinians from firing on Israeli soldiers and civilians, and the Israeli military should limit the use of lethal force -- all as a prelude to negotiations that would resolve underlying causes of conflict.

Doubletalk: The Palestinians have said that they would abide by the recommendations if Israel does. But the Palestinians have made many promises to English-speaking audiences while continuing to call for the destruction of Israel in Arabic.

The exploding violence has had, at least, one positive outcome: after four months of apparent disengagement, the Bush administration has finally recognized the necessity of the world's only super-power becoming involved in the peace process.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has selected William Burns, designated assistant secretary of state for the Near East, to go to the Middle East to work with the Israelis and Palestinians to implement the report's recommendations. Burns, a career foreign service officer most recently U.S. ambassador to Jordan, is a firm believer in an active American engagement in the Middle East.

This should send a strong signal to the rest of the world that the United States is not abrogating its responsibility as a world leader to try to bring the two sides together.

Burns understands the delicate role this nation must play and that ultimately, both sides must compromise if there is to be a lasting peace.




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