'This Is a Bullet in the Peace Process'

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Thursday, 11.30 a.m., EST

What are the chances of reviving the peace process after Thursda'ís killing of Israeli soldiers in a Ramallah police station and the Israeli shelling of Palestinian Authority facilities?

"You can call what happened today a bullet the peace process, and it may have killed it. And the targets today include not only the Palestinian Authority headquarters, media facilities and police stations, but also the American role. Palestinian anger today against the United States has reached an extreme level. The people I spoke to on the streets today, and those I heard on the radio and Palestinian TV, hold the U.S. as responsible as Israel for the attacks today in Ramallah and Gaza."

Why are Palestinians blaming the United States?

"Because they think Barak and Israel operates under the protection of the U.S., and that the U.S. has failed to take a decisive position to curb the Israelis. And this anger against America has spread throughout the Arab world. Today the staff of the U.S. embassy in Cairo were sent home early, and of course the air strikes on Ramallah today coincided with a terrorist attack on a U.S. Navy ship in Yemen. So we're going to see a new wave of anti-American and anti-Israel anger in the Arab world."

The incident with the Israeli soldiers in Ramallah points to a weakness in the peace process, which requires Arafat to police Palestinian anger in territories under his control...

"Yes, this is a very clear indication that we're back to Square One on the question of trust. Neither side has any credibility with the other any longer. There is simply no longer any trust. This is a very sad situation, because it means that it will probably take years to heal the wounds.

"In fact, I'm expecting the Palestinians to make another mistake in response, such as attacking Israeli settlements. And that will make the Israeli military intensify its attacks. The Israelis say what happened in the West Bank and Gaza today was simply a symbolic warning that Israel will no longer tolerate Palestinian attacks."

So does that mean both sides are now preparing for war?

"You could say that. The Israeli military is besieging all the Palestinian towns and cities. It has moved tanks to the borders of all Palestinian territories. There's a huge military presence around the Palestinians now. The Israeli navy has even put its gunboats 200 meters away from Arafat's office in the waters off Gaza. As I said before, everybody is expecting more violence. From the Israeli point of view, they couldn't allow what happened to their soldiers to be repeated. And the harsh response unites Israelis behind Barak."

Is that not part of the problem here — both leaders can only remain in charge by acting tough?

"Yes, the hard line on both sides is a unifying factor. The Palestinian radicals will now want to retaliate, and I think the Palestinian Authority will count to 100 before stopping them from doing what they want to do. Even if Arafat says enough is enough, he can't counter the general outrage among ordinary Palestinians. In Israel, too, Barak's political situation forces him to act tough. So the political picture on both sides should warn you to refrain from being optimistic about the prospects for peace."