Zinni pessimistic about 'narrow path' of road map
On March 1, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni announced his resignation as the special U.S. envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not many remembered that he was still holding the official position, even though his last visit to the region was before last year's Park Hotel seder massacre.
On March 1, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni announced his resignation as the special U.S. envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not many remembered that he was still holding the official position, even though his last visit to the region was before last year's Park Hotel seder massacre and the subsequent start of Operation Defensive Shield, and his "work plan" was rejected by both sides. In the more than year that has pased, Zinni receded not only from the parties in the region but also from his bosses in the White House and State Department.
Zinni doesn't hide his opinions about the administration's leaders. After speaking out last October against the war in Iraq, he came under criticism from "administration officials" who expressed doubt he would return to his job. Zinni says he did not hear from the officials about the continuation of his mission, but it seemed to him that the administration was not interested in using him further, so he resigned on March 1, noting that there were those in the administration who were not sad to see him go.
His main complaint touches on the administration's priorities when it deals with the region. From Zinni's perspective, the top priority was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and only after that was being handled was Saddam Hussein's turn to come. During his 15 years dealing with Middle East matters, everywhere he went he heard that the Palestinian condition is the first thing that matters. "If there were ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, it would have been easier for the U.S. to get international support for the war in Iraq," he says.
Zinni was in Israel and the territories three times during his term as envoy. Each visit was accompanied by a wave of terror attacks against Israeli targets. During one visit, there were seven attacks in a row. Zinni remembers an attack in Jerusalem's Zion Square during his first trip to the region. "I went there and I saw the horror - bloodstains and shrapnel all over. Emotionally, that was terrible, but I also understood not only the human tragedy, but also the power of the extremists."
It's clear to Zinni that the guilty party in the failure to cease the terror attacks was Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Zinni says he saw progress in his talks with Palestinian security officials, but "they did not have enough authority from the leadership to go through with what was discussed."
A few months after his last trip to the region, Zinni met with some American Jewish leaders in a closed session. But after the meeting, there were leaks that he called Arafat a "liar" and and even compared him to a Mafia boss in New York. Zinni denied it and the Jewish leaders apologized but his comments now clearly reflect what he thinks of Arafat: "When he told me that he gave the order (to take action against terror), it was clear to me that the command was not passed down. He said he did certain things, such as arresting terrorists, but we knew he hadn't done so."
He calls "naive" the hope to achieve a cease-fire with the terror organizations and believes that a frontal clash is needed for the PA to make finally clear to the organizations that terror is not the way. His mission was to implement the Tenet "work plan," which included confidence-building measures by both sides and substantive actions against terror. The last major wave of terror put an end to his plan, which was mostly approved by both sides.
But Zinni doesn't put all the blame on the Palestinian side. On his way to a critical meeting with Arafat in Ramallah, Israel conducted an assassination that also involved several Palestinian children being killed. The discussion with Arafat was immediately diverted to complaints against Israel and the matter of the Tenet plan was made marginal. He also was not pleased with Israeli behavior at checkpoints - and Israel's settlement policy: "I drove through the territories and I saw all around the new mobile homes and the new settlements. Of course this was not helpful."
Zinni is pessimistic about the road map. He thinks focusing on a sequenced process based on performance will make it difficult to proceed. "If you take such a narrow path and one step fails, the whole process is in danger," he says. He believes that only progressing along a wide range of tracks - security, political and economic - will guarantee progress all the time and give both sides the hope to continue.
He also believes that the U.S. should not make do with a single envoy or a small team, but instead, should send a large team that will spend a long period of time in the region, both to coordinate all the tracks and efforts to implement the road map and also to advance other parallel plans. "Don't try to light one match, light a thousand candles," he advises.
Zinni lives in historic Williamsburg, Virginia and is active in a number of Israeli-Arab dialogue tracks, as well as serving as an official State Department envoy to peace efforts in Indonesia, while holding a teaching job at the prestigious William and Mary College in Williamsburg.
But he has been bit by the Middle East bug and won't let go. "I would like to be part of the team trying to promote peace in the Middle East," he says, counting his friends from both sides and remembering the promise he made not to leave until there was progress.
But it's clear that his hope will not be fulfilled. "I'm not so popular right now," he admits, but it's the administration, not the Israelis and Palestinians, to whom he's referring.