US Ambassador Says PA Is Trying To Control Violence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Washington's outgoing ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, expressed cautious optimism Tuesday that the cycle of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may finally be broken.

Addressing a lecture at the Hebrew University, Indyk said the internationally-accepted Mitchell Commission's recommendations on halting the violence represented the only alternative for leaving the current trouble behind and moving forward.

He said he had "a little more hope" today, because it appeared that the PA was now taking the initiative to quell some of the violence. "It is possible - possible that we've reached a turning point in the violence," Indyk told the packed auditorium.

"There are now indications, still tentative, that the Palestinian Authority may finally be trying to take action to stop the violence, including turning off the hateful incitement," he added.

Israel announced on Tuesday that it had accepted ceasefire conditions presented earlier by CIA chief George Tenet, who has been meeting with leaders and security officials on both sides since last week.

PA security officials met Tenet on Tuesday, but have reportedly held off on giving him a formal response to the ceasefire plan before consulting a second time with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Tenet met Israeli and PA security chiefs on Monday night at a Jerusalem hotel, but the gap between the two sides' expectations was said to remain wide.

But Indyk said an absence of agreements has not been the problem with Israeli-PA relations. Numerous previous diplomatic initiatives had produced "game plans" for ending the violence, but none were successful.

Israel's unilateral declaration of a ceasefire last month, coupled with the PA's similar declaration 12 days later had given the necessary time to "break the cycle" of violence and terrorism and close the gap between the political and practical levels.

Pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end the ceasefire has been intense since attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians have continued.

Through Monday, the Israeli army said, there had been more than 100 attacks on Israelis since Arafat declared a ceasefire, including bomb, mortar, shooting and stoning attacks.

The U.S.-led Mitchell Commission recommended a four-stage plan, which begins with a complete cessation of violence followed by a time of quiet, confidence building measures - including a tough for Israel to swallow halt to settlement activity - and finally a return to negotiations.

Indyk praised the Mitchell report as a "road map" for emerging from the violence. Both sides had accepted it unconditionally and could thus be pressed simply to implement it, he said.

Indyk drew a roar of laughter when he asked his primarily Israeli listeners if they trusted Arafat. He quickly followed up by asking if they had a choice.

Israel had "three bad choices" to choose from now, he said - return to treating Arafat as a peace partner; retake control of areas previously handed over to the PA; or separate unilaterally from the Palestinians.

In his view, the only viable choice was the first, including a return to negotiations within the framework of the Mitchell recommendations.

Hebrew University Professor Shlomo Avineri, present in the audience, politely challenged Indyk's assertion, saying that it was based on the assumption that both sides wanted peace.

Avineri said Arafat would not get a better deal from Israel's present government than the one offered him by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, which he rejected. On the contrary, Sharon has said he will offer much less.

America's role

Indyk, who is finishing his second term as ambassador to Israel in July and retiring from the Foreign Service, said that because of America's close relations with Israel and its ties to Arab States, Washington would continue to play a unique role in the peacemaking process.

Washington is not only interested in peace in the region because Israel and the U.S. share Judeo-Christian and other values and are both democracies, he said.

The U.S. was also concerned with its interests in the Arab world, including the need to ensure the "free flow of oil at reasonable prices," he added.

Promoting "peace and stability" between Israel and its Arab neighbors was the way to reconcile these interests.

Because the U.S. is the only superpower in the world and has the trust of Israel, it can encourage Israel to make concessions and take risks in the region, offering its own strength as backing.

If the region returns to violence, he added, the U.S. can prevent the ideology held by some Arab states - that the only way to deal with Israel is militarily - from prevailing, Indyk said.