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Israelis, Palestinians Skeptical Of Renewed U.S. Peace Efforts

By Lee Hockstader

The speech by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on the Middle East got a muted reaction here Monday, with Israelis relieved at the remarks and Palestinians, who had been hopeful, a little disappointed. Neither side expressed optimism that the latest American push to reinvigorate peace efforts would be more successful than its doomed recent predecessors.

No matter what their other competing views, Americans, Israelis and Palestinians appear to share an assessment that the ongoing conflict, and each side’s appetite for it, has not changed dramatically since the last major American peace bid. In June, CIA Director George J. Tenet spent a fruitless week trying to broker a cease-fire that each party welcomed but neither honored.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and a new senior envoy, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, are coming to the region next week in hopes of securing a cease-fire, and Zinni may stay for a prolonged diplomatic mission. But the two “are not coming out here to capture a moment,” said a Western diplomat here. “They’re going to have to create it.”

Since Tenet’s trip in June, U.S. diplomacy here has been practically invisible, and the Middle East conflict has deepened. Now, spurred by America’s Arab allies to tackle an issue that has inflamed the Muslim world, the Bush administration is trying to re-engage.

The administration’s moves have been tentative so far, all agreed. Despite the shortage of new initiatives in Powell’s address, both sides were focused on his announcement that a new envoy would be dispatched to the region.

“Powell’s speech was very nice, very good, but I’m afraid that nice speeches are not enough for the ugly conflict of the Middle East,” said Yossi Sarid, leader of a dovish Israeli opposition party. “I hope that Gen. Zinni will come here with more than nice speeches, and with proposals that are more realistic.”