Mideast: A 'Virtual' Peace, But A Real Controvers

Shalom. Salaam. Peace in the Mideast? Well, at least between two longtime Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, Yossi Beilin and Yasir Abed Rabbo. After years of dreaming and months of working out the fine print, Beilin and Rabbo brought their "virtual" Geneva accord to Washington last week. But in some quarters they were received more as pariahs than as peacemakers. Some Israeli officials denounced them as traitors, and American Jewish groups lobbied Bush administration officials to keep their distance. And while Secretary of State Colin Powell hosted Beilin and Rabbo at the State Department on Friday, the meeting was the diplomatic equivalent of air kissing. Powell was gracious but studiously neutral about the plan, which envisions a permanent settlement by 2005. (Some administration officials criticize it for not calling on the Palestinians to end terror.)

Later that afternoon on the train to New York, Beilin put a good face on the encounter. Powell "was very, very curious about the initiative," he told NEWSWEEK. (A State Department spokesman quickly said Powell has not read the document.) Another State official who attended the meeting, Assistant Secretary William Burns, called the initiative "fascinating," said Beilin. But the State spokesman said Burns was referring to the concept of the shadow peace plan, not the substance of the agreement. President Bush coolly accepted the meeting, saying, "We appreciate people discussing peace." Some White House officials would have preferred that the meeting never happened.