Meditation Focus #55

Fostering a Peaceful Solution to the Kashmir Dispute



Hello,

What follows is the 55th Meditation Focus suggested for the two consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, January 6, 2002.

FORSTERING A PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO THE KASHMIR DISPUTE

1. Summary
2. Meditation times
3. More information on this Focus
4. Peace Watch for the Middle East




1. SUMMARY

Despite the continued build up of forces on both sides of the border and the mounting number of casualties of both sides, there now appears to be a growing possibility that the military tensions between India and Pakistan may begin to subside, although India is not letting up its pressures upon General Pervez Musharraf in the hope he will step up his crackdown on Islamic militants Delhi holds responsible, along with the Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence Agency (ISI), for the December 13 suicide attack on the Indian parliament. India also accuses Pakistan of the "Talibanisation" of Kashmir, charging the ISI in particular with fomenting civil unrest in Kashmir. This unrest, waged by Muslim militants for an independent homeland, has so far claimed 35,000 lives in the last 12 years. In response to this latest crisis, India and Pakistan have amassed troops, artillery and missiles along their borders in one of the most high-risk build-ups since they won independence from Britain in 1947. This sabre-rattling coincides with the Anti-Terrorism Convention of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) whose summit opened in Nepal this week. It also coincides with a diplomatic effort by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to resolve outstanding issues through dialogue. Commentators are hopeful of a peaceful resolution to the crisis and an avoidance of escalation. There is a particular urgency to these concerns given that Pakistan and India possess nuclear weapons.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf shook the hand of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at the South Asia summit on Saturday, but the gesture did little to break the ice between the countries whose armies are massing along the border. Atal Behari Vajpayee said he was pleased the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had made the gesture of shaking his hand, but insisted that it must be followed up by concrete action to clampdown on the Kashmiri militants. Despite the international pressure, Delhi is not willing to soften its stance just yet - particularly with crucial regional elections looming. With no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough in sight, civilians on both sides of the Kashmir line of control have continued to flee their homes for fear of an outbreak of war. Amidst all these tensions, there are suggestions in some quarters that the United Nations should broker a deal on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Dr. Ghulam-Nabi Fai, executive director of the Washington-based Kashmiri American Council, expressed the view that Kashmir "is not real estate that can be parceled out between two disputants but the home of a nation with a history far more compact and coherent than India's and far longer than Pakistan's. No settlement on the future of the 13 million Kashmiris will hold unless it is explicitly based on the principles of self-determination and erases the so-called line of control, which is in reality the line of conflict."

Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks to contribute in fostering a negociated and permanent settlement to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan through peaceful negociations amongst all parties concerned. The desire for peace of the vast majority of the population in Kashmir as well as their legitimate democratic right to self-determination should become a prime concern for all. May a new spirit of mutual understanding, free from the prejudices of the past, grow in the hearts and minds of everyone in this region of the world so as to unshackle the limitless possibilities for harmonious cooperation, and may Peace prevail in Kashmir, for the Highest Good of All.


This whole Meditation Focus is also available at http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus55.htm




2. MEDITATION TIMES

i) Global Meditation Day: Sunday at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT) or at noon local time. Suggested duration: 30 minutes.

ii) Golden Moment of At-Onement: Daily, at the top of any hour, or whenever it better suits you.

Beginning Sunday October 28, these times below will correspond to 16:00 Universal Time/GMT:

Honolulu 6:00 AM -- Anchorage 7:00 AM -- Los Angeles 8:00 AM -- Denver 9:00 AM -- San Salvador, Mexico City, Houston & Chicago 10:00 AM -- New York, Toronto & Montreal 11:00 AM -- Halifax, Santo Domingo, La Paz & Caracas 12:00 PM -- Montevideo, Asuncion * & Santiago * 1:00 PM -- Rio de Janeiro * 2:00 PM -- London, Dublin, Lisbon, Reykjavik & Casablanca 4:00 PM -- Lagos, Algiers, Geneva, Rome, Berlin, Paris & Madrid 5:00 PM -- Ankara, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Athens, Helsinki & Istanbul 6:00 PM -- Baghdad, Moscow & Nairobi 7:00 PM -- Tehran 7:30 PM -- Islamabad 9:00 PM -- Calcutta & New Delhi 9:30 PM -- Dhaka 10:00 PM -- Rangoon 10:30 PM -- Hanoi, Bangkok & Jakarta 11:00 PM -- Hong Kong, Perth, Beijing & Kuala Lumpur +12:00 AM -- Seoul & Tokyo +1:00 AM -- Brisbane, Canberra & Melbourne +2:00 AM -- Wellington * +5:00 AM

+ means the place is one day ahead of Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time.
* means the place is observing daylight saving time(DST) at the moment.

You may also check at http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/full.html to find your current corresponding local time if a closeby city is not listed above.




3. MORE INFORMATION ON THIS FOCUS

This section is for those who wish to understand in more details the situation of this week's Meditation Focus. For those who wish to read on, we would encourage you to view the following information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision you wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mindset, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of healing. We provide the details below because we recognise that the knowledge of what needs healing can assist us to structure our awareness to maximise our healing effect.

You may also review our 4 previous Meditation Focus on the related topic of Peace in Kashmir:

Meditation Focus #14: Preparations for Peace Talks in Kashmir continue despite a wave of violence http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus14.htm

Meditation Focus #28: Potential for Peace in Kashmir
http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus28.htm

Meditation Focus #42: Peace in Kashmir
http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus42.htm

Meditation Focus #54: Maintaining Peace Between India and Pakistan
http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus54.htm

Special Reminder for the Meditation Focus #54
http://www.aei.ca/~cep/ReminderFocus54.htm


From: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20020105/wl/southasia_dc_27.html

Indian, Pakistan Leaders Shake Hands (Saturday January 5)

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf shook the hand of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at a South Asia summit on Saturday, but the gesture did little to break the ice between the countries whose armies are massing along the border. Vajpayee accepted Musharraf's outstretched hand, but immediately repeated a demand that Pakistan halt what India calls ``cross-border terrorism." An Indian official dismissed the handshake as grandstanding.

CLIP

Adding to a sense of Indian frostiness, Vajpayee stayed away from an informal afternoon gathering of leaders at the summit in Nepal, though he later joined them for dinner. Musharraf concluded his summit speech by announcing he wanted "to extend a hand of genuine, sincere friendship to Prime Minister Vajpayee." He then strode around the podium to face the Indian prime minister, sitting among a row of government leaders, and held out his hand to loud applause. With a look of wry amusement, Vajpayee half rose to his feet and shook Musharraf's hand.

"I have shaken his hand in your presence," Vajpayee told the summit. "Now President Musharraf must follow this gesture by not permitting any activity in Pakistan or any territory in its control today which enables terrorists to perpetrate mindless violence in India."

KASHMIR TENSION

Earlier, Pakistan also rounded up another 200 Islamic militants in early morning police raids on mosques, houses and militant bases, continuing a crackdown on groups that India blames for the attack on its parliament. But the handshake prompted a new round of bickering between the old foes.

CLIP

India and Pakistan have amassed troops, artillery and missiles along their borders in one of the most high-risk build-ups since they won independence from Britain in 1947. In Chakoti, in Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, a Pakistani officer said about 20 Pakistanis -- soldiers and civilians -- had been killed by Indian gunfire in the last month. Brigadier Yaqub Khan told visiting journalists that the standoff with Indian forces was much more dangerous than a similar confrontation in Kashmir in 1999.

He said he did not know how many people had been killed on the Indian side.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is touring the region hoping to help calm the waters. He was due to meet Indian leaders on Sunday before going on to Pakistan. Indian analyst C. Raja Mohan said that despite the lack of progress at SAARC, he still hoped for a breakthrough. "I think both the countries are grappling to come to terms with an agreement on an agenda for talks to begin," said Mohan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu.

CLIP

---

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1743000/1743809.stm

India accepts 'hand of friendship'
(Saturday, 5 January, 2002)

Vajpayee has been under pressure to ease hostilities The Indian prime minister has cautiously welcomed Pakistan's offer of a "hand of friendship" at a regional summit in Nepal, but relations between the two powers remain fraught.

Atal Behari Vajpayee said he was pleased the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had made the gesture of shaking his hand, but insisted that it must be followed up by concrete action to clampdown on the Kashmiri militants Delhi holds responsible for attacks on Indian territory.

Reports by Pakistani officials that the foreign ministers of the two countries had met on the sidelines of the summit were firmly denied by India, which had ruled out any such face-to-face discussions earlier in the week. Mr Vajpayee also stayed away from a so-called "retreat" to allow the seven regional leaders to talk in private.

The BBC's Simon Ingram says it all suggests that, despite the international pressure, Delhi is not willing to soften its stance just yet - particularly with crucial regional elections looming.

With no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough in sight, civilians on both sides of the Kashmir line of control have continued to flee their homes for fear of an outbreak of war.

The Commissioner for Relief in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir said at least 50,000 people had fled, while officials in the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan also reported that villagers were moving their families to safety.

CLIP

As the summit got under way, Pakistani security forces were reported to have arrested more than 200 militants opposed to Indian rule in Kashmir. Police sources told Reuters news agency they had detained members of the extremist Muslim Sipah-e-Sahaba group in raids in the central province of Punjab and in southern Sindh late on Friday and early on Saturday.

On Friday, Pakistani police arrested large numbers of Islamic activists in what appeared to be a major operation against militant and sectarian groups. Pakistan has insisted it has taken the action for domestic reasons, not in response to Indian or international pressure. It has refused to hand over a number of men India blames for the attack on its parliament. But the BBC's Jonathan Head says the latest arrests are a well-timed move, which suggest Mr Musharraf is serious about clamping down on militant organisations.

---

From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,627302,00.html

Autonomy for Kashmir is the answer

The stakes are now so high that India, as well as Pakistan, must see sense

Martin Woollacott

Friday January 4, 2002

The Guardian

The attack on the Indian parliament which has led to military confrontation between India and Pakistan in Kashmir was, some Indians say, probably aimed at killing their prime minister and other leading politicians. But in the political rather than the physical sense, the attack was aimed much more at the leadership of Pakistan than it was at that of India. That is why the Indian reaction needs critical examination. It has included demands that the leaders of the covert groups responsible be arrested and in some cases handed over to India, a claim of dissatisfaction with the detentions that have followed and a rushing of troops and missiles to the front line.

General Pervez Musharraf is engaged upon an extraordinary reversal of Pakistani strategic policy, forced upon him initially by events in Afghanistan, but which cannot be confined to that country. A changed approach to Afghanistan, a changed approach to Kashmir, a changed approach to India, and a changed approach to Islamist parties and movements in Pakistan itself are all part of the broader shift which is in prospect, although far from assured.

Pakistani policy in Afghanistan was aimed at closing off that country to India, which once enjoyed influence there, and at using its remote places and Islamist militants to help in a deniable covert war in Kashmir. The supposed purpose was to detach the Indian part of Kashmir, or at least keep India in a state of constant discomfort until the balance of advantage changed, as with Pakistani covert aid for other rebels in the Indian union. Beyond that, for some zealots, perhaps danced the hope that the huge Muslim community in India would be radicalised.

It was less a realistic scheme to win Kashmir than a wrecker's project and a rationale for the dominance of the armed forces and the intelligence services within Pakistan. Even though they had failed in the wars with India, lost East Bengal and proved inept when they seized political control, they still claimed they had a cunning long-term plan to come out even against India. Musharraf was part of this culture, benefited from it, and is indebted to some of the more Islamist elements within the officer corps.

He is in power today because he was able to represent the Kargil disaster in 1999, when the Pakistanis were forced to withdraw from positions that they and Kashmiri militants had seized in Indian Kashmir, as entirely the fault of Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister. In reality it was the joint responsibility of both the political and the military leadership, very much including Musharraf himself. But he is an opportunist and by Pakistani standards a realist, and it seems that he recognises that times have changed.

He is now faced with a sharp divergence between his interests and those of what is probably still the greater part of the Pakistani establishment on the one hand and those of the militants that Pakistan has long encouraged and used on the other. The raid on the Delhi parliament, like the earlier attack on the Kashmir assembly, were surely aimed either at embroiling him in a new confrontation with India or at producing an upheaval in Pakistan in which he and his new policies would be discarded.

If India humiliates Musharraf by forcing the pace of the repudiation of extreme Islamists on which he may now be riskily embarked, it could come to regret it. As the journalist and analyst Nayan Chanda has pointed out, to demand a complete end to support for armed struggle in Kashmir, including support for genuinely local and religiously moderate groups, is something "no Pakistani ruler can risk without a demonstrable quid pro quo from India".

Indian policy ought to be bent toward producing that quid pro quo rather than bullying Pakistan into concession after concession. Perhaps, beneath the military show, some rethinking is going on and perhaps the Americans, and Tony Blair during his visit, may be able to encourage it. But there is an Indian irrationality over Kashmir as dismaying in some ways as that of Pakistan. It is not too much to say that India, by its cavalier and in the end brutal approach in Kashmir, over the years extinguished what was initially probably a slight majority in favour of the New Delhi connection.

Perhaps the desire now of most of the inhabitants for independence, a desire which pleases neither India or Pakistan, could be parlayed into a substantial autonomy which could be made acceptable to Kashmiris, Indians, and Pakistanis alike. What was impossible or improbable before has to be considered now because, as the attack on the Indian parliament showed, the stakes have increased so hugely.

m.woollacott@guardian.co.uk

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From: http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/opinion/2002/0104/2851767304OP04CLONAN.html

A regional dispute that threatens the whole world

A mixture of national pride and historic enmity lies behind the posturing between nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. But, suggests Tom Clonan, India would likely win any eruption of hostilities The history of bitter rivalry between Pakistan and India is a legacy of the partition of the Indian sub-continent by the British in August 1947.

Within two months of independence from Britain, in October 1947, war broke out between Pakistan and India over the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir. A UN-brokered ceasefire was achieved in 1949, but full-scale war erupted once more over Kashmir in September 1965.

The crisis was resolved in January 1966 with the Indian prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and the Pakistani president, Ayub Khan, signing a Soviet-backed peace deal. This was a short-lived truce, however, with a renewed India-Pakistan war, this time over East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), in 1971.

This war resulted in the surrender of 90,000 Pakistani troops in Bangladesh. The Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, subsequently signed a peace accord with President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in July 1972. The uneasy peace that has characterised relations between India and Pakistan was shored up by a mutual non-aggression pact in 1988.

The current crisis in Kashmir has its roots in this history of rivalry and aggression between India and Pakistan.

The suicide attack on the Indian parliament on December 13th has brought matters to a head once more. The Indian Prime Minister, Vajpayee, has alleged that Pakistani-backed militant groups mounted the attack.

The Indian authorities claim that these groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, carried out this attack at the behest of the Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence Agency (ISI). India also accuses Pakistan of the "Talibanisation" of Kashmir, charging the ISI in particular with fomenting civil unrest in Kashmir. This unrest, waged by Muslim militants for an independent homeland, has so far claimed 35,000 lives in the last 12 years.

In response to this latest crisis, India is strengthening its garrison of 400,000 troops in the Kashmir area and plans to conduct major so-called military exercises in the region.

Pakistan in turn has deployed around four divisions (roughly 80,000 troops) supported by armoured units to reinforce their side of the Line of Control, the border with India.

This sabre-rattling coincides with the Anti-Terrorism Convention of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) whose summit opened in Nepal this week. It also coincides with a diplomatic effort by Tony Blair to resolve outstanding issues through dialogue.

Commentators are hopeful of a peaceful resolution to the crisis and an avoidance of escalation. There is a particular urgency to these concerns given that Pakistan and India possess nuclear weapons.

CLIP

As Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf engage in brinkmanship over the coming days and weeks, the international community will make every effort to defuse the situation and avoid a nuclear confrontation.

Such an eventuality would create a humanitarian and environmental crisis of unprecedented proportions. In order to avoid this and further destabilisation in the region, it is important that Pakistan and India be persuaded to talk.

In the words of Winston Churchill and especially in this instance, "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war".

---

SEE ALSO:

Kashmir rights can't be denied (1/5/2002)
http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/005/oped/Kashmir_rights_can_t_be_denied+.shtml

Indian PM eases Kashmir tension
http://www.guardian.co.uk/kashmir/Story/0,2763,627190,00.html
WAR IS UNNECESSARY SAYS INDIAN PM
The Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said today that "war is not a must" with Pakistan and stressed that a previous comment about using all of India's military means in a conflict did not
include nuclear weapons. The prime minister, Tony Blair, will be encouraged by the comments, as he starts his diplomatic mission to Pakistan and India today, hoping to avert a war between the two nuclear powers. But tension remains high, and forces from the two neighbouring countries exchanged mortar fire along the border earlier today.

India, Pakistan trade border fire as Musharraf extends hand of friendship (Sunday January 6)
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/020105/1/29by2.html
India and Pakistan exchanged heavy fire along their disputed borders in Kashmir, amid international diplomatic efforts to reduce military tensions between the South Asian nuclear rivals.

The Kashmir conflict explained
http://www.guardian.co.uk/flash/0,5860,627234,00.html
At the western edge of the Himalayas, this mountain region has been a source of conflict since 1947. Our interactive guide explains where it is, how it came to be so contentious and why three of the world's nuclear powers think they have a big say in its future.

Special reports:

Kashmir
http://www.guardian.co.uk/kashmir/0,2759,184266,00.html

Pakistan
http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/0,2759,180809,00.html


Useful links:

UN resolutions on Kashmir
http://www.pak.gov.pk/kashmir/kashmir-resolutions.htm

Pakistan government's Kashmir site
http://www.pak.gov.pk/kashmir/index-kashmir.html

Kashmir information network (Indian perspective)
http://fotedar.org/kin/

Map of Kashmir
http://travel.excite.com/

Times of India
http://www.timesofindia.com/

Hindustan Times
http://www.hindustantimes.com/

Pakistan Today
http://www.paktoday.com/

The Nation (Pakistani)
http://www.syberwurx.com/nation/

In-depth coverage about the Kashmir Dispute
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/World/Kashmir_Dispute/

In-depth coverage about Pakistan
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/World/Pakistan/




4. PEACE WATCH FOR THE MIDDLE EAST

Here are some of the latest developments in the Middle East. Please also keep this situation in mind during your meditations in the coming two weeks to help ensure that peace prevail there as well.

From: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20020105/ts/israel_palestinians_2501.html

U.S. Envoy 'Optimistic' on Truce
(Saturday January 5)

JERICHO, West Bank (AP) - A U.S. envoy was hopeful Saturday he could guide Israelis and Palestinians toward a truce, after Israel said it would further ease West Bank blockades and the Palestinians continued to arrest suspected militants.

In Washington, meanwhile, a U.S. official raised the possibility that a 50-ton weapons shipment intercepted by Israel was intended for Hezbollah, Hamas or another extremist group, rather than for the Palestinian Authority , as Israel claimed.

Israeli officials said the crew was led by Palestinian naval police and had confessed that the arms were to have been delivered to the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip . The Palestinian Authority denied any links to the shipment, which included Iranian-made rockets and anti-tank missiles.

The U.S. envoy, Anthony Zinni, met Saturday with Palestinian negotiators and said he would chair a meeting Sunday of Israeli and Palestinian security officials.

Zinni is pushing both sides to implement a truce plan drafted last year by CIA chief George Tenet.

Under the plan, Israel is to lift its sweeping travel bans on Palestinians and pull back troops to positions they held before fighting broke out in September 2000. The Palestinians are required to go after suspected militants and prevent attacks on Israelis.

Israel eased restrictions before Tenet's arrival in the region Thursday, pulling back tanks from some Palestinian areas and opening some roads in the West Bank. ``The moves to ease the situation of the Palestinian population will continue," Israeli government spokesman Arnon Perlman said Saturday.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinian security officials announced Saturday that they arrested a leading activist in the militant Islamic Jihad group. The suspect, Fawaz Khlayef, was involved in shooting attacks on Israelis, the officials said.

Zinni said he believed the two sides were moving in the right direction. ``I'm hopeful. I'm encouraged," Zinni said after meeting with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in the West Bank town of Jericho on Saturday.

Once a truce is in place, the two sides are to follow a plan by an international commission, headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, for returning to peace talks. Israel would have to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza, while the Palestinians would have to dismantle militant groups.

However, Zinni said that for now, security was his focus.

``We are going to start with security issues, and that's the beginning point," Zinni said. ``We will get those other issues when the time is ready."

Zinni is ending his four-day mission Monday, and Palestinian officials said he was expected to return to the region Jan. 18 to evaluate progress.

His mission was overshadowed by the controversy over the weapons shipment. Israeli naval commandos seized the cargo ship on Thursday in the Red Sea, hundreds of miles from Israel's shores. Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said the captain and three sailors were members of the Palestinian naval police. Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said one of the Palestinians on board had been trained by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah.

A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was not clear yet who the intended recipients were. ``There's a possibility these weapons were headed for Hezbollah, Hamas or other extremist groups. That's been the pattern in the past when ships like this have been seized," the official said.

Gissin said the crew told their Israeli interrogators the munitions were to have been delivered to the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip. The arms were to have been lowered into the water in plastic containers which would be towed ashore by Palestinian fishing boats, he said.

A military spokesman said the suggestion that the arms were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon does not make sense. "Hezbollah has no need for such a complex smuggling operation. Its arms are delivered by Iran through Syria," said Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz.

Erekat said Israel made the accusations in bad faith. He said Arafat had ordered an investigation, and invited U.S. officials to participate.

In a meeting with Arafat on Friday, Zinni "expressed our strong condemnation of any attempt to escalate the conflict in the region by militant groups or others," said U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Gissin said the interception fueled Israeli suspicions that Arafat was preparing for a new round of armed conflict. "The Palestinian Authority must decide that it wants to go toward a cease-fire and peace, and not to build up its forces for ... the next round," Gissin said.

---

From: http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/world/2002/0104/692134097FR04MIDEAST.html

THE MIDDLE EAST: As the US peace envoy, Mr Anthony Zinni, began talks in Israel last night, it emerged that his four-day mission is unlikely to yield a formal Israeli-Palestinian truce or the adoption of proposals for an eventual return to the negotiation table. David Horovitz, in Jerusalem, reports. Indeed, the early signs are that Israel wants Mr Zinni to use his visit solely to pressurise the Palestinian Authority President, Mr Yasser Arafat, into deepening his crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while the limit of Mr Arafat's hope is that the envoy will help him extricate himself from virtual Israeli house arrest in Ramallah.

The Israeli army yesterday withdrew its forces from Palestinian territory in Jenin and Nablus and parts of Ramallah, while still keeping those cities blockaded, and lifted its blockades around Tulkarm, Qalkilya and Hebron. The moves were timed to coincide with Mr Zinni's arrival, and designed to demonstrate a willingness to preserve the recent relative calm in the area.

There were faint hints, too, that the army might be ready to suspend its policy of killing alleged intifada kingpins inside Palestinian territory, although it continues to send in troops to arrest alleged militants - five of whom were captured in two raids yesterday. Tellingly, the army maintained its presence in the northern Ramallah area adjacent to Mr Arafat's offices.

Israel's Prime Minister, Mr Ariel Sharon, has said that Mr Arafat will not be permitted to leave the town until he arrests the two gunmen, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who assassinated Israel's minister of tourism in October.

A derisive Mr Arafat yesterday mocked reports that Israel was easing freedom of movement for Palestinians, inviting journalists to take a walk "outside my office to the places Israel says are open, and see if it is true or not".

But while his immediate surroundings were indeed still under Israeli watch, the tanks were rolling back and the concrete barriers were being removed in many other West Bank areas. Aides to Mr Arafat are describing these Israeli measures as a "fake withdrawal" designed to fool Mr Zinni. Aides to Mr Sharon are adamant that it is Mr Arafat's moves against the extremists that are fake - and claim he has reached agreements with them to temporarily hold their fire, not stop attacks permanently.

Mr Dan Meridor, a minister from the Centre Party, said yesterday that Mr Arafat "had made a start" in the battle against the Islamic fundamentalists. "But they're still preparing rockets and stockpiling weapons. Their fingers are still on the triggers."

Palestinian Authority ministers want Mr Zinni to announce the start of implementation of CIA chief George Tenet's truce plan, and then move on to the US-backed Mitchell Commission proposals for a return to the collapsed peace process. Mr Saeb Erekat, the former chief Palestinian negotiator, points out that there is no provision for "seven days of quiet" as demanded by Mr Sharon as a precursor to such progress, in either of these plans, and that, in any case, it has effectively been fulfilled by the dramatic recent fall in the level of intifada violence.

Mr Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, thinks so too. Mr Sharon does not, and will make this clear, in Mr Peres's presence, at the breakfast he is hosting for Mr Zinni this morning.

In any case, it seems likely that Mr Zinni will confine himself to convening a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs on Sunday, before his departure, and will then monitor events from home before deciding whether and when to make.

---

See also:

U.S. Envoy 'Optimistic' on Truce
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20020105/ts/israel_palestinians_2501.html

Ship Seizure Clouds U.S. Peace Mission in Mideast
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20020104/ts/mideast_dc.html

FULL COVERAGE ON THE MIDDLE EAST AT
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/World/Middle_East_Peace_Process/




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