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Commentary: Colin Powell Emerges As a Clear Loser in President Bush's New Middle East Policy

All Things Considered: June 25, 2002

A Defeat for Powell?


If many Arab commentators and analysts see the Bush plan as tilting toward Israel, NPR News analyst Daniel Schorr says it tilts toward some members of the Bush administration as opposed to others. Dan says in this version of US policy toward the Middle East, Secretary of State Colin Powell emerges as a clear loser.


Having promised a follow-up to his April speech on Palestinian statehood, President Bush felt compelled to give one. But weaving between competing constituencies, foreign and domestic, proved to be an agonizing task. And in the end, after a lot of inspirational rhetoric, the net effect of his speech was to put efforts towards an independent Palestinian state on hold until Yasser Arafat is replaced by an anti-terrorist, pro-democratic leadership that is nowhere in sight.

The line that drew the headlines was the last line added to the speech last weekend, according to White House briefers. It was, `Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born.' That line marked a victory for Sharon over Arafat. It also marked a victory for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld over Secretary of State Powell, who had dedicated himself to keeping lines of communication open to the Middle East.

There was very little of Powell in that speech. His earlier statement, that it's up to the Palestinian people to decide who will represent them, had been dramatically reversed. The international conference he wanted to be held this summer is off indefinitely. His idea of some form of interim or provisional Palestinian state behind temporary borders on the road to full statehood can be found in this speech in only one fuzzy reference to `certain provisional aspects of sovereignty to be resolved as part of a final settlement.'

What an interim state is, under whose aegis, whether internationally administered and policed, Powell would be explaining that by now if the administration was ready to discuss it. It apparently is not.

President Bush said that with intensive effort, a statehood agreement could be reached within three years from now. But with violence continuing and a negotiating partner nowhere in site, that time frame can hardly be taken seriously. What can be taken seriously is that by making a solution contingent on almost unattainable conditions, the president has removed himself from the firing line. This is Daniel Schorr.

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