Israel and Palestinians Await Powell 'Peace Plan'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel and the Palestinian Authority rebuffed a U.N. Security Council rebuke on Tuesday, as they braced themselves for what has been billed as a new U.S. Middle East peace initiative. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to present the plan in a speech next week.

Israel said it was not expecting anything new in what has been dubbed the "Powell plan," but a senior advisor to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat said the Palestinians want to see the U.S. lay out a plan for fulfilling President Bush's recent commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian State.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that the Palestinians are looking for the implementation of the promises that have been made.

"We will not be satisfied [with Powell's plan] if it doesn't contain a mechanism for implementation," Abu Rudeineh said in a telephone interview.

A timeline or timetable for implementing the promises and procedures on the ground, which would be enforced by the U.S. and U.N. are elements that Palestinians would like to see included. Otherwise, Abu Rudeineh said, it will be just another statement.

The "promises," he said, include President Bush's recent pledge that the U.S. backs the establishment of a Palestinian State, or "Palestine" as Bush called it in his weekend speech at the U.N. General Assembly.

"Without implementation it will lead to frustration," he said.

Israel has accused the Palestinians of doing nothing or very little to stop violence and rein in terror. But Abu Rudeineh, said that once negotiations start and agreements are made, then the Palestinians will begin to fulfill their commitments.

"Once there is an agreement, once there are [international] observers then we are ready to comply with all the commitments," he said.

Backed by the U.S., Israel has vehemently opposed the stationing of international observers, saying that such forces would protect Palestinian militants and prevent Israel from fighting terrorism.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it would be "premature" to comment on or judge the reported plan but an official in Jerusalem, who spoke on condition of anonymity said that as Israel understands it there is no real "plan" per se.

According to Israel's understanding, Powell is going to present the guidelines about what the U.S. would like to see in the region, the source said.

There won't be anything spectacular and he won't want to "annoy" either side very much, but on the other hand he won't "mince words," he said.

Israel may not like the rhetoric it is going to hear, but Israel is not expecting to hear anything new, he added.

An Israeli diplomat in Washington was quoted as saying that the administration has pledged that Powell will not mention Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees, the two most contentious issues between Israel and the PA.

Powell himself has restated that what the region needs is to implement a moribund ceasefire agreement brokered months ago by CIA chief George Tenet, but never implemented.

That is the first step in implementing a broader set of recommendations put forth by a committee headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, which is aimed at returning the sides to the negotiating table.

The U.S. has been under intense international pressure even before September 11 to become more involved in resolving the Middle East crisis. That pressure increased in the aftermath of the attacks as the President Bush worked to gain the support of Arab and Muslim nations for the fight against terror.

But shortly after the September 11 terror attacks in the U.S. reports surfaced that Powell had intended to lay out a new U.S. peace initiative at the U.N. General Assembly meeting, which was then postponed.

No details of that plan have ever been released, though Powell has suggested that Washington would make some diplomatic move in the next few days.

Security Council Rebuke

Israel and the PA on Tuesday brushed aside a rebuke by the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which called on Israel to withdraw from two PA-controlled cities and the PA to rein in terror and violence.

In a statement, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France also said they "strongly encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to take the necessary security, economic and political steps to move from confrontation to resumption of a political process."

"We have always said there is nothing that we would like better...than to leave [PA-controlled] area A," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Immanuel Nachshon. "[Israel's being there is a direct result] of a total lack of action on the part of the Palestinians."

Israel entered six PA-controlled cities to arrest terrorists and prevent attacks after the unprecedented assassination of a government minister. It has since left four of those areas after making deals with local Palestinian commanders to maintain calm. It postponed its withdrawal from the two cities due to warnings of imminent attacks.

Abu Rudeineh said that the Palestinians are ready and waiting to fulfill their commitments. "We are ready to do our part," Abu Rudeineh said. "We are ready to respect our commitments."

One source in Jerusalem said that it appears that the Palestinians are at least beginning to take security measures into their hands, which would free up Israel to leave PA-controlled areas. But it is unclear if the move is purely tactical so as not to make trouble during the U.N. conference, he said.

But a former head of Israeli intelligence Shlomo Gazit warned that if there is no intervention, the situation is likely to deteriorate into all out war.

"Unless there is an intervention that stops the process and causes it to change direction, we will shortly face an extreme escalation in terrorist violence and an extreme intensification of Israeli retaliatory measures," Gazit wrote in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post.