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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Powell Returns Home With Little to Show

CAIRO, Egypt -- Before he set out on his difficult mission, Arabs expressed skepticism U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell could or would do much to help the Palestinians. That skepticism appears to have grown during the 10 days Powell has been trying to talk peace with leaders in the Middle East and Europe.

The trip ended Wednesday with a last, quick stop in Egypt, an important Arab moderate and one of Washington's closest allies in the region.

Powell failed to get Israel to agree to a total pullout from Palestinian territories it began taking over on March 29, though Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced a retreat from all but Ramallah and Bethlehem within a week. The U.S. envoy also failed to persuade Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to issue a cease-fire call, though Arafat did issue a statement condemning attacks on civilians, including a recent Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Powell had as difficult a time in Syria and Lebanon, which he visited Monday in a late addition to his itinerary. Powell went expressing concern that border fighting between Israel and Syrian-backed Lebanese guerrillas could spark wider Arab-Israeli violence. Syria and Lebanon blamed Israel, and Lebanon and its Hezbollah guerrillas said the attacks on Israel would continue.

Marwan Abdul-Haq, a Syrian restaurant owner, accused Powell of touring the region bringing ideas "dictated to him by Israel, and not as a mediator for a just peace bringing logical solutions."

Iraq's al-Thawara newspaper on Wednesday described Powell's efforts as "fruitless." Ahmed Omran, a Baghdad shop owner, said, "I think Powell's visit will be a failure because it was designed right from the beginning to grant Sharon more time to complete his evil plans and to cover up his crimes against Palestinian civilians."

During his trip, Powell took up Sharon's proposal for a regional peace summit, an idea derided by Arabs who see it as a way to renege on previous peace commitments.

"By merely declaring its approval of this call, Washington indicates it also agrees to what the butcher [Sharon] had said on several occasions that the Oslo accord is dead and that all the roads leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the lands occupied in the 1967 war are blocked," the pro-government Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar said in an editorial Tuesday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher was among the more circumspect. He was quoted as saying that Egypt welcomes the idea, adding "what is important is that any move builds on the previous moves."

Syria used its official media to denounce the peace-conference proposal as a "dirty maneuver that is totally rejected." Syria and Lebanon, along with the Palestinians the last of Israel's neighbors with no peace treaty with the Jewish state, would be crucial for a peace conference.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said Tuesday on American television's PBS "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" that if the conference was to implement UN resolutions calling on Israel to return to its 1967 borders, "it is something." Sharon has rejected a complete withdrawal to the 1967 lines.

Hariri, who was visiting the United States and planned a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush Wednesday, said he would ask Bush to go beyond condemning the Israeli offensive in the West Bank or asking Arab leaders to condemn Palestinian attacks.

"They have to move the Israeli[s] immediately from the land occupied in Palestine and they have to work immediately to achieve the peace through UN resolutions" and the Saudi peace plan.

Arab nations have endorsed a Saudi proposal for a comprehensive peace, in which they would recognize Israel in exchange for a return to 1967 borders, creation of a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

Protesters across the Arab world have been calling on their leaders to take action against Israel. Moderate leaders like those of Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab states with peace treaties with Israel, in particular have been challenged to show their contacts with the Jewish state can serve Arab interests.

Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abul-Ragheb, quoted in an interview that appeared in Wednesday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, said that if Powell's mission failed, it would have "grave consequences on the region as a whole, on the peace process and will cause chaos, and the interests of the U.S. and the West will be affected."

Egypt announced early this month it was downgrading its diplomatic relations with Israel to those that only serve the Palestinian cause. A visit by Maher to the Palestinian leader in his confinement in Ramallah has raised criticism in the Arab press, with some accusing Egypt of pressing the Palestinian leader on behalf of the Americans.

Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, has played a key mediating role between the Palestinians and Israel. President Hosni Mubarak has continued to do so, despite pressure at home.

Egyptian protesters have been calling on their government to end relations with the Jewish state and expel its ambassador. Other more radical voices have been calling for opening the door to jihad, or holy war, allowing Egyptians to join the Palestinians in their clashes with Israelis.