Newt Tries to Make Nice in the Mideast

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JERUSALEM: Just for a moment, the kinder, gentler Newt returned. Meeting with Yasser Arafat Wednesday, Speaker Gingrich managed to put his runaway rhetoric on hold long enough to announce the American delegation was here "for the Palestinian children." That didn't mean his less-than-diplomatic statements -- describing Madeleine Albright as an "agent for the Palestinians," and Jerusalem as "the united and eternal capital of Israel" -- had been forgotten. TIME has learned that the U.S. embassy in Israel had to urge Arafat to appear in the same room as Gingrich. And while they were meeting, the Palestinian Legislative Council issued a blistering attack accusing the Speaker of being "party to the Zionist movement" and urging its members not to receive him.

Which doesn't exactly make Newt the best Mideast envoy the U.S. has ever had. According to TIME's Jerusalem correspondent Jamil Hamad, "Gingrich's statements will be used by Hamas as proof of an American pro-Israeli stance ... there's no doubt this is due to his own political aspirations, but Palestinians don't devalue his statements just because he's a candidate." Whatever political bombs Newt is trying to throw at home, he may regret it if suicide bombs start flying in Jerusalem.