Annan Urges Olmert to Ensure Cease-Fire

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrives in Israel, hoping to solidify the tenuous peace in Lebanon. Annan will be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is under mounting criticism over Israel's conduct of the war against Hezbollah.

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U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is in Israel tonight after earlier touring war-battered south Lebanon. Annan is encouraging Israel to lift the air and sea blockade of Lebanon and he's trying to build support for an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force.

Annan's visit comes as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remains under strong political pressure at home over his government's conduct of the war with Hezbollah. Olmert agreed to set up two committees to investigate shortcomings. But for most in Israel, that's not enough.

From Jerusalem, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

In creating two committees whose members he appointed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert placated almost no one here. Even some members of his own coalition government criticized the move as inadequate. Many army reservists agreed. Recently decommissioned soldiers continue to lead protests outside Olmert's offices calling for a formal state commission of inquiry headed by the Supreme Court's chief justice.

Mr. DANIEL KEROS(ph) (Movement for Quality Government in Israel): That not only can check a particular department or the army, but also the government itself, which is - most of the question marks here regard the government itself.

WESTERVELT: Daniel Keros is with the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a non-partisan reform group. Keros is helping lead protests next to the reservists. Four members of his group are on a hunger strike demanding a wider inquiry and if need be, resignations at the top. Keros calls Olmert's new committees laughable.

Mr. KEROS: He's doing everything possible to try to kind of bypass this one or do it half way, the kind of committee that the government will choose the members, which is obviously a farce. But the Movement for Quality Government in Israel does not intend to allow him to do so and this is what the people of Israel want.

WESTERVELT: Some Palestinians, meanwhile, are distressed that the flood of postwar self-criticism and reflection in Israel has included very little discussion of how the lessons of the war might affect the long-stalled peace process. Olmert's aides say he's shelved plans, for now anyway, to unilaterally withdraw some settlers from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a plan Olmert campaigned on this spring. The recent Lebanon war may have dealt a blow to Israeli unilateralism, but it hasn't given any momentum to new bilateral peace talks either.

Palestinian analyst Zachariah Al-Qak(ph) with Al-Quds University says post-war Israel seems to be preoccupied only with making political heads roll and how to technically build a better war machine. No one, he says, is publicly probing larger questions of the limitations of military might and the cycle of conflict.

Mr. ZACHARIAH AL-QAK (Al-Quds University): You see, it's amazing that every time the Israeli are having a problem with the neighboring Arabs or with the Palestinian or with the Lebanese, they are not trying to say maybe all these kinds of wars didn't succeed and then maybe we have to go back to politics or we have to sit and negotiate, or maybe to explore the possibility of peace. It seems the Israeli mindset is not really flexible to absorb that there is a solution to the problem, which is negotiation.

WESTERVELT: But some analysts see a dim glint of hope for new peace moves imbedded in the ongoing examination of Israeli military deficiencies during the war with Hezbollah. Uri Dromi is with the Israel Democracy Institute. He believes support for territorial concessions will eventually rebound when more Israelis realize that the army's ongoing policing duties in the West Bank have tactically softened the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, what he calls the best army in the Middle East.

It's one thing to chase teenagers in the Kasbah of Nablus, he says, and quite another to fight a well-trained and heavily armed guerrilla force in Lebanon.

Mr. URI DROMI (Israel Democracy Institute): The IDF has suffered a lot of deficiencies in this campaign because of being for too long a policing force in the territories. I think this is something that maybe it will take some time but the Israelis will start to understand. And therefore, I wouldn't bury the peace process with the Palestinians.

WESTERVELT: But Israeli officials say with Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist group, heading the Palestinian Authority, there is no viable partner for talks. And as one Palestinian analyst put it, there's a wider vacuum to restarting Palestinian/Israeli talks. The world is distracted by other regional problems - the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the ongoing war in Iraq and the continued fallout from this summer's war in Lebanon and northern Israel. No one's picking up the ball on this, he said, because no one is even on the playground.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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