U.S. has less than a week to put together its peace plan
Colin Powell faces a huge job when he arrives in Israel next week: Convince both sides that peace is possible.
That task alone is not going to be easy. And what comes after it is going to be even more difficult.
Some would argue that the secretary of State should have been dispatched to Israel immediately in an effort to stop the bloodshed. But that would presume that the Bush administration knows exactly what Powell is going to do when he gets there. And that would be too big an assumption.
Even in his speech Thursday, President Bush did not clearly enunciate this administration's position, other than to state the obvious: That the killing should stop, that both sides have been wrong and that it will take concessions all around to achieve a cease-fire.
Challenges: Powell will be entering a no-man's land, a land where Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat an enemy of the state, has expressed regret at not having killed Arafat 20 years ago and has offered Arafat a one-way ticket to anywhere he wanted to go. It's also a land where Arafat says he's ready for a cease-fire, even while Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade spokesmen say they'll continue to use suicide attacks against Israel. It raises the question as to whether Arafat could stop them, even if Israel were to allow him to step outside his compound in Ramallah. And if he can now, why couldn't he -- or wouldn't he -- have done so earlier?
Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who negotiated a peace in Northern Ireland, gave some insight into what Secretary of State Powell will probably have to do.
Speaking on the television program "Nightline" earlier this week, Mitchell suggested it would be necessary to draft a laundry list of targets and outcomes stretching over months or even years to bring the conflict from firefights and suicide bombings to a negotiated peace.
Each side in the dispute must yield gradually, giving in on one point in order to gain another, always knowing what they will get today, what they will have to give away tomorrow and what they will then get the next day -- days being figurative lengths of time in this equation.
Obviously there are other models for negotiating a dispute as long-ranging and complicated as this, and perhaps the Bush administration has already adopted one. What is clear, is that a solid plan is going to have to be assembled and the administration is going to have to stand by it.
The administration can't take the position one week that anyone who harbors terrorists is as bad as the terrorist and must be eliminated, and then argue the next week that Israel is going too far in trying to track down and crush terrorists cells that recruit and equip suicide bombers.
Human nature: It is very easy for humans to waver as they watch a battle from the sidelines. A person's sympathies are torn between Israeli families ripped apart by shrapnel in a hotel dining room on Wednesday and Palestinian families huddling in their homes as tanks rumble down the street Monday. Those are human reactions.
The United States government, drawn into the role of mediator by virtue of its standing as the world's only superpower, does not have the luxury of reacting emotionally.
It must have a vision, a plan and a determination to bring a just peace to the region. If the U.S. secretary of State isn't carrying the whole package when he takes off for Tel Aviv next week, Powell would be better off staying home.