Secretary Powell said at a press conference that followed a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, ”We could have a cease-fire declared today, but what would it mean?”
As long as Israel continues its occupation of Palestinian areas, he said, “Cease-fire is not a relevant term at the moment.”
After the secretary left, Arafat vented his anger at reporters.
“I have to ask the whole international world, I have to ask his excellency President Bush, I have to ask the United Nations, is this acceptable that I cannot go outside from this door?” he asked. “Do you think this will not reflect in the whole stability and peace in the Middle East?”
One of the Palestinian’s lead negotiators, Saeb Erekat, called the U.S. mission a failure.
“Secretary Powell leaves the situation much worse than he came,” Erakat said.
Al Jazeera television quoted the Palestinian information minister, Yasir Abed Rabbo, as saying the Powell-Arafat meeting was “catastrophic.”
There did not seem to be Israeli troop pullouts Wednesday, although Sec. Powell said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised to wind up the West Bank sweep “in the next few days or a week or so.” He said Sharon had given him “a pretty precise timeline.”
Sharon advisor Dore Gold said that Sec. Powell’s mission was not a failure and that the Palestinians were to blame for the limited results of his visit.
“Secretary Powell goes away with a tangible Israeli timeline to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities and bring the current operation to a close,” Mr. Gold said. “That’s a clear, tangible accomplishment. Unfortunately, Yasser Arafat has not reciprocated, has not offered a meaningful cease-fire. Therefore, unfortunately the cup is half-empty and it’s half-empty because of Palestinian refusal.”
However, the Israeli government made clear that the tense standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem will continue until some 200 Palestinians surrender. They also maintain that the siege on Arafat’s compound in Ramallah will continue until two men, wanted by the Israeli government and apparently holed up there, are arrested.
Back in the U.S., President Bush said Powell had made progress, but added much more remained to be done. Mr. Bush is reportedly sending CIA Director George Tenet back to the region to resume security talks and help the parties reach a cease-fire under a plan outlined last summer.
The president is scheduled to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri later today to discuss ways to prevent skirmishes along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel from widening into a wider Arab-Israeli war.
The region has been relatively quiet today, an apparent success of Powell’s visit there.