JERUSALEM, March 8 - Despite U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent
sharp criticism of Israel's policies, no change of the U.S. policy towards the
Arab-Israeli conflict is in sight, analysts said Thursday.
"It is too little too late, and this administration is contributing to the
violence in the Middle East by remaining on the sidelines," Omar Kader,
president of Planning and Learning Technologies, told IslamOnline.
Powell responded Wednesday to comments by hardline Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon that the Palestinians "should be hit very hard" and "suffer many losses"
in order to understand they "would not get anything through terrorism," Agence
France-Presse (AFP) reported.
The Secretary, speaking to a House of Representatives subcommittee, said Sharon
had to take "a hard look at his policies" to see whether they would work.
"If you declare war against the Palestinians and think you can solve the
problem by seeing how many Palestinians you can kill, I don't know that that
leads us anywhere," he remarked.
Powell's remarks were among the toughest criticism this administration has
given to Israel in months of pressure on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat
to "exercise authority" and crackdown on armed resistance among Palestinians.
But Kader, who has served as executive director of the United Palestinian
Appeal and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said that the
policy of "weakening Arafat and then asking him to do more" has been
a "constant, constant insanity."
"It's not only irrational, it's poor public policy," he said.
Sharon, who said Israel had never declared war on the Palestinians, but was
waging a war “against terrorist organizations as legitimate defense,” rejected
The increasing tension between Israel and its main ally comes after a week of
the worst violence yet seen in the 17-month-old Intifada, or Palestinian
uprising, in which more than 100 people have been killed, some 70 of them
Palestinian, AFP reported.
Last month, Sharon returned from his fourth visit to the United States in less
than a year, positively basking in Washington's implicit endorsement of his
punishing measures against Arafat, AFP said.
And two days ago, U.S. President George W. Bush made no effort to criticize
Israel's policies at a meeting in Washington with Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak, when he squarely emphasized Arafat's responsibility to stop attacks on
Mark Heller, principal analyst at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said
Powell's words reflected nothing more than a difference of opinion within the
"There have always been serious differences of emphasis within the U.S.
administration, with Powell and the State Department being more open to the
idea of trying to inject some political content into the situation," he told
"Others, such as the President and Congress, have been more inclined to look at
this through the prism of terrorism and say first the violence has to stop, and
consistent with that, they have been less inclined to criticize what Israel has
been doing," he said.
Powell's comments essentially reflected the same message delivered by Mubarak,
which is that the tit-for-tat violence was leading nowhere and therefore some
kind of political message was needed.
But the difficulty with that kind of message was that it could easily be
interpreted as a pay-off for violence, Heller said.
Kader felt very strongly that Powell's words were just a "mild response,"
nothing near to what was actually needed by the two parties from Washington,
and he called it a "scandal" that Powell waited until nearly 1,000 Palestinians
and 300 Israelis had been killed, mostly innocent civilians, to make such
"It takes courage and backbone to do the right thing," he told
IslamOnline. "Four previous administrations were tougher on this issue than
this one, [but] this administration lacks the backbone to do what is right."
But another analyst, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs publisher Andrew
Killgore, said that as small as the gesture was, it was something.
"It's at least a hopeful sign," said Killgore, a retired U.S. Foreign Service
officer who says he has been observing the Middle East conflict for nearly 50
years. "After all, there aren't a whole lot of hopeful signs growing on trees
that you can hold on to."
Although he said that Powell's comments were nothing "to jump up and down and
scream with joy over," he added that he thought Powell understood the situation
well and was sympathetic to the Palestinians' plight. "It's better than
nothing," he said.
Heller said one of the only things that could provoke a more critical stance
towards Israel was if the Bush administration decided to take action against
Iraq, AFP reported.
"In that case, they would probably lean on Israel much harder to 'cool it' in
order to make it easier to sell whatever they're thinking of doing in Iraq, to
the Arab countries," he said.
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies also
said Powell's remarks would have no effect Israeli-U.S. relations, AFP said.
"It will make no change. In Israel, it was amplified by the left who don't like
Sharon anyway but U.S.-relations are on a steady course.
"Maybe they are trying to make sure there is no further escalation while
preparing to attack Iraq," he added.
The most effective way for the Bush administration to put pressure on Sharon
would be through discreet diplomatic channels, Inbar said.
"I think that there is concern in Washington about what seems to be an endless
deterioration of the situation and the Secretary of State's words reflect that
concern. But it does not reflect any shift in U.S. policy towards Israel," a
spokesman for the U.S. embassy told AFP.