Israeli-Palestinian Violence 'Must Be Stopped,' Cohen Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
JERUSALEM, Nov. 28, 2000 Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak Nov. 22 here that frazzled Palestinian and Israeli leaders should take a step back, cool off and give peace negotiations another chance.
"We need a time for passions to cool," said Cohen, as part of a transition period from the heated rhetoric between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to returning to the bargaining table. He noted that a U.S.-appointed fact- finding commission headed by former Senator George Mitchell could be a bridge to peace negotiations.
The commission "would look into what caused the violence to spurt in September in the first place," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. He noted that Barak said the Israelis were prepared to cooperate with the commission.
Cohen's meeting with Barak wrapped up an eight-day Middle East trip that covered nine countries: Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. During Cohen's Nov. 15-22 trip, Palestinian-Israeli relations deteriorated as violence escalated along the disputed Gaza Strip and other areas.
Cohen expressed his concern to Mideast leaders throughout his trip that the current troubles and violence between Palestinians and Israelis could spread across the region if not stopped soon. Around 250 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed since late September in confrontations on Israeli-occupied land in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, over the twin issues of territory and Palestinian statehood.
"I think all parties concerned want to see a lasting peace in the Middle East," Cohen remarked at Barak's office in Jerusalem. "There is a genuine concern that the violence can spin out of control, that the violence and the cycle of violence must be stopped, and that we have to get back to the bargaining-negotiating table to secure a fair and just and lasting peace."
Barak thanked the U.S. defense secretary for his long-term support for Mideast peace and stability and concurred with Cohen's view that there now needs to be a cooling off period between embattled Palestinians and Israelis.
Cohen's work in the Middle East was instrumental in "making a strong and self-confident Israel that can stand here as a result of being strong enough to be able to be restrained at the same time," said Barak, who has been pressured by some of his constituents to deal even more severely with aggrieved Palestinians, who are petitioning for their own state.
Cohen had flown to Israel Nov. 22 after spending the previous evening and most of the morning in Cairo conferring with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his ministers on Middle East peace and security issues.
Cohen called Egypt "a key player in the peace process." Some senior Egyptian leaders evidently became upset over the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence. Mubarak recalled Egypt's ambassador to Israel on Nov. 20 and asked Cohen to tell Barak that "the violence has to end" between Palestinians and Israelis.
Cohen noted Egypt is receiving $1.3 billion in military aid from the United States for its Mideast peacekeeping efforts. Mubarak hosted the October Israeli-Palestinian peace summit attended by President Clinton, Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
It was at this meeting that Barak and Arafat agreed that the committee would be helpful in restarting peace negotiations. Other committee members include former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman, former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Javier Solana and Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland.
Cohen appeared on Egyptian television before departing for Israel from Cairo. He was asked his views on the Israeli- Palestinian situation, especially the United States' stated role as an honest broker of peace.
"All lives are precious," Cohen said. "We are committed to seeking a fair peace. We want to see the killing stopped."