That's It for Foreign Observers

Brigadier General Michael Herzog - son of the late president and former head of Military Intelligence Chaim Herzog, and grandson of a chief rabbi in both Dublin and Jerusalem, Rabbi Isaac Herzog - is entitled to be considered as having some Irish blood in his veins.

Brigadier General Michael Herzog - son of the late president and former head of Military Intelligence Chaim Herzog, and grandson of a chief rabbi in both Dublin and Jerusalem, Rabbi Isaac Herzog - is entitled to be considered as having some Irish blood in his veins. Perhaps that was why a senior British army officer whispered in his ear - when the Palestinians were making strident demands for international observers in this region - that Israel's refusal to accept such observers was being greeted with joy in London.

When George Mitchell - who was recently in this part of the world - mediated in the Northern Ireland conflict, the British officer told Herzog, the British blocked every attempt to introduce foreign monitors. In fact, the United Kingdom, Herzog was informed, agreed only to the stationing of external supervisors for the grindingly slow process in which the IRA divested itself of its weapons. Herzog was warned by his British counterpart that Israel must not agree to international observers, because no country embroiled in a conflict really wants that kind of supervision.

This is also the position of the Americans, that is, senior political and military officials in Washington - but not that of special Middle East envoy and American assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, William Burns, who represents the pro-Arab school of thought among State Department officials, a school of thought that has no influence whatsoever on the decision makers in the administration in Washington.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat would love to see dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of Americans in the field who would be constantly exposed to danger. The handful of Central Intelligence Agency personnel posted here are in no hurry to risk their lives. These intelligence officers ride about in bullet- and bomb-proof cars and are fearful of an attack by Hamas or by the Islamic Jihad.

The U.S. Army has raised the issue of security for this small contingent - the issue of their security has up until now been a footnote to the overall mission - to a top-priority item. In other words, the chief mission of the members of this peace-keeping force is to protect themselves and to return home safe and sound. An environment crawling with suicide-bombers, whom the PA Chairman is supposed to be able to control but whom he claims he cannot restrain, is hardly the kind of place to which Uncle Sam would like to send a large group of Americans, whether in uniform or not.

Israel's opposition to foreign observers has given the American administration headed by George W. Bush a wonderful pretext for staying clear of the idea, which was enthusiastically supported only by Arafat, Burns and a small group of Israelis who have made their reputation dependent on the outcome of the Oslo process.

Even before the arrival of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's adviser, Osama El-Baz, in Washington last week, it was made crystal clear that senior administration officials - Bush himself, Vice-President Richard Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell (and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who met with the secretary of the Israeli cabinet, Gideon Saar), as well as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - were not overly thrilled about the idea of additional, and endless, American involvement in a remote and perpetual conflict.

Work done by staff members of the Washington administration - which was intended to study the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, American foreign policy toward Iraq and the connection between the two issues - was completed this month, and the findings were in Israel's favor. The Republicans have already lost their majority in the U.S. Senate and their clout might further shrink in the 2002 elections, for which both the GOP and the Democrats are already gearing up. Bush would certainly not like to be giving the impression that he is bullying Israel, especially if Israel seems neither weak nor responsible for the present conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel's supporters in the U.S. Congress are threatening to push for legislation that would hurt the foreign aid to both Egypt and the Palestinians. In a recent survey conducted by U.S.A Today, pro-Israel respondents outnumbered pro-Palestinian respondents by four to one (60 percent versus only 15 percent). In the United Nations Security Council, the Americans have mobilized forces for blocking the Palestinian initiative.

The staying power on both sides of the conflict depends to a very large extent on the supply of oxygen provided by the U.S. Without that oxygen, Arafat is wearing himself out. He is no longer behaving like a power-drunk leader, but is instead showing signs of vertigo and the incipient symptoms of total exhaustion. If this trend continues, internal pressure could force Arafat's hand and could lead him to stop the confrontation well before the end of the six years Herzog last week predicted the Intifada would last.