U.S. considers its next move in Mideast crisis

WASHINGTON -- The White House is weighing its options as a Middle East middleman as unrelenting terrorist acts by Palestinians and Israeli military reprisals are dashing peace prospects.

President Bush and his advisers could press on with more of the same: calling on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to end the violence and urging restraint and compromise by Israel. But more robust options short of a Camp David-style summit should be considered, Mideast analysts say.

Bush could get more involved in the high-stakes peacemaking effort himself. The president could give Arafat a deadline for halting terrorist strikes against Israel and threaten to cut ties with him if he doesn't. Another option is to press forward with a peace plan proposed by the Saudis and hope that pressure from Arab nations will quell the violence.

"I think it's going to involve deeper and broader U.S. engagement," said Sandy Berger, national security adviser for President Clinton."It's going to be difficult to stop the current dynamic because the Israelis are going to make it clear to the Palestinians that a strategy of terrorism is not going to work."

With tensions high, the best thing the administration can do is urge restraint by both sides and allow U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni to continue pursing a cease-fire, said James Lindsay of the Brookings Institution.

"The Palestinians feel they're winning and Israel's position is kill or be killed," he said. "That is not a recipe for conflict-resolution."

"The real question is, 'Is Arafat unable, or unwilling to stop the violence?' It's probably a little of both."

Steve Pieczenik, former deputy assistant secretary of state, and other observers favor a hands-off approach.

"The best thing we can do -- I know it sounds callous -- is to let them fight it out. There is nothing else to do," Pieczenik said, adding that there is no reason for Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney or Secretary of State Colin Powell to go the region now.

"You do not fritter away the power of the presidency" on missions that have a limited chance of success, he said.

But Kenneth Pollack, director of national security affairs for the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks personal diplomacy would have more success than telephone diplomacy.

"We should be involved with both feet at the highest levels," he said.

Defending Israel

While Arafat's compound was attacked by Israeli troops on Friday, Bush kept a low profile at his Texas ranch where he was staying during the Easter holiday.

The president broke his silence Saturday, defending the Israeli raid while demanding anew that Arafat do more to stem violence. He also consulted with five world leaders on the situation.

Before the crisis escalated last week, there was cautious optimism.

Zinni was making progress toward a cease-fire, Powell said. He said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was beginning to show flexibility on some negotiating points.

The U.N. Security Council endorsed a Palestinian state. Arab leaders endorsed a Saudi peace plan -- one that offered Israel recognition, security and "normal relations" in exchange for a withdrawal from Arab lands held since 1967 and a "fair solution" for Palestinian refugees.

Berger said Arab leaders must get the Palestinians to accept their vision of peace as outlined in the Saudi initiative. The United States also needs to get Arab nations to pressure Arafat into reigning in the terrorist infrastructure.

Dennis Ross, a former Mideast envoy during the Clinton administration, suggests the Bush administration give Arafat a deadline to end the violence, making clear that it will cut ties with him if he does not.

At the same time, he said, the United States should push Israel to stop military action against the Palestinians for that same period of time to give Arafat a chance to control the violence.

Judith Kipper of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Bush should insist on a cease-fire, set a time limit and tell both sides that if they do not meet it, there will be consequences -- economic or the like. "We're still the superpower here," she said.

But Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute, thinks there is danger in too much U.S. involvement because both sides try to manipulate the United States for political gain.

"When we give so much attention to the dispute, it simply gives them a greater incentive to act out," Carpenter said.