'Israeli-Palestinian Escalation Hurts U.S. Interests'

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TIME.com: What does Friday's dramatic escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence mean for the Bush administration?

Jay Branegan: It puts the U.S. in a very serious dilemma, because the Bush administration has been extremely reluctant to plunge in to the situation in a more active way, because of the political cost of failure. And yet, as the situation deteriorates, it hurts U.S. interests throughout the region — the escalating violence certainly complicates Washington's efforts to win Arab support for a revised package of sanctions against Iraq, for example. So while there are a lot of downsides and risks to getting more involved, what we're seeing now is that the cost of inaction is high, too.

Right now there's something of a stalemate, because the Israelis believe they can stop the violence by pounding the Palestinian Authority into submission, and the Palestinian Authority believes it has no incentive to end the violence because it's not being offered any kind of peace process. And the Israelis, of course, refuse to do anything that would be seen as rewarding Arafat for his intifada. Even if the U.S. did get more involved, its questionable how effective they could be in resolving the situation right now.

When Arafat's Number Two, Abu Mazen, met with Colin Powell earlier this week, he told the Secretary of State that the Palestinians could implement all of the recommendations of the Mitchell report, and recommended that it be used to define some kind of cease-fire process. But Arafat is not going to take steps to end the violence in the absence of a clearly defined peace process that he believes will lead somewhere.

The issue of settlements is particularly difficult, because the Israelis are reluctant to freeze settlement activity, and yet the fact that settlement activity continued during the peace process was a major factor undermining Palestinian confidence in the peace process — because the Israelis would take land to expand settlements and build roads, and that would have a big impact on the lives of Palestinians on the ground. On that and other issues, right now, both sides are implacable, and that's a major problem for the Bush administration.