Powerful images have combined to provide U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell with a monumental challenge as he arrives in Israel on a peace mission.
On the Arab and Palestinian side, television is having as dramatic an effect on the politics of the region as it had three decades ago in the United States when TV brought the Vietnam War into American living rooms.
While television coverage then caused many Americans to question the wisdom of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, it is having an opposite effect in the Middle East. Western and Arab cable broadcasts have for the first time brought saturation coverage of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank into millions of homes in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and other Arab nations.
The images of Israeli tanks rumbling through the streets of Palestinian towns, of fire fights between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, of buildings blown up and people wounded or killed have inflamed and radicalized much of the younger population in many of those Arab countries.
On the other side, Israelis have fresh images in their minds of the carnage caused by suicide bombers -- pictures of restaurants, markets, cafes and buses shattered, twisted and stained with blood.
Complicated politics: To that dynamic, add the decidedly anti-Israel posture of the United Nations and most of Europe, the sudden and cynical support of Saddam Hussein for the Palestinians by which he is re-emerging as a Middle East "leader," the understandable reluctance of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to trust Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat (and vice versa), and the need for the United States to combat international terrorism without condoning terrorism.
All that makes it exceedingly difficult for Colin Powell to walk into the Middle East one day and expect to walk out a day or two later with a satisfactory result. And it makes for some uneasiness in the United States when it appears that U.S. policy is, indeed, geared toward quick results in an intractable situation.
President Bush has been calling for a quick end to hostilities in the West Bank and an immediate pullout of Israeli troops, regardless of whether Sharon has achieved his goal of destroying terrorist cells. The president has called for an accelerated effort to establish an independent Palestinian state. And he has suggested putting American peacekeepers in the middle of an extremely volatile situation.
After a year of taking the position that the Palestinians and Israel had to work out their differences virtually by themselves, there is a danger now that the Bush administration is moving too fast and expecting more than either side is willing or able to produce.