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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 22:43 GMT
Israelis sceptical about US diplomacy
US envoy for the Middle East Anthony Zinni beside US and Israeli flags in Tel Aviv
Many Israelis are not hopeful of much US support
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By BBC News Online's Martin Asser in Jerusalem

While there is a clear American agenda for US Vice President Dick Cheney's 11-nation Middle East marathon, many Israelis seem ambivalent about what their strongest ally and supporter is doing for them in the conflict with the Palestinians.

America has the power to impose a solution, but I don't know if it is willing to implement one

Israeli citizen
No Israeli disagrees with Mr Cheney's message - about Iraq's "axis of evil" status - but there is concern that America's preoccupation with Saddam Hussein could signal an erosion of its unflinching support for Israel.

A commonly expressed view in west Jerusalem, just as Mr Cheney was being flown in by helicopter to the prime minister's residence, was that Washington should allow Israel the same freedom to "fight terror" as it allows itself in Afghanistan and beyond.

"When they had the terror attack on the twin towers, the Americans went and conquered a whole country, so what can we do?" said one man.

"They killed children, animals, they killed all of Afghanistan, and the world said nothing, but in Israel the whole world comes to tell us what to do," said his friend, adding: "We need a war."

Delaying the inevitable

Many people are calling for an escalated military campaign - on a scale comparable with the US-led campaign against the Taleban and al-Qaeda if necessary - and want Washington to back it 100%.

Israeli soldier shouts at Palestinians to move back at an army checkpoint
One man said he felt peace would only come in 50 years

But they are not optimistic of getting such support from the current US administration.

"America is trying to think on a global basis, saying that if it appeases one party [the Palestinians], that will help them gather an Arab coalition to fight Iraq, and maybe Iran," said a religious Jew.

"But they don't understand that it's fundamentalist Muslim terror which is spreading round the world, and all they are doing is delaying a much worse outcome than on 11 September."

This man's wife agreed: "I think that their chase after one person, (Osama) Bin Laden, is ridiculous - instead of seeing the whole picture, the terrorism spreading all over the world, and it's no use what they're doing."

Doves in abeyance

Such a hard line is not the only position on show, although it certainly formed the majority of the unrepresentative sample of Israelis speaking to BBC News Online.

US Vice President Dick Cheney in Qatar
There is Israeli concern that US support could erode

But attitudes towards the visit of Mr Cheney, and the related mission by US envoy Anthony Zinni, were equally sceptical among the dovish citizens.

"America has the power to impose a solution, but I don't know if it is willing to implement one," said one man who expressed support for the leftist Israeli opposition party Meretz.

His French-speaking wife was more cynical about of the whole diplomatic process.

"We faced hatred in Europe, arising out of religious enmity, but the Arabs' hatred for us is more reasonable, because of their daily tragedies.

"The Americans don't understand this tragedy, and the only reasons they are here are money and arms," she said emphatically.

Meanwhile, a man whose family had immigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1951 said the best the Americans could hope to achieve was stem the bloodshed on both sides.

"Not peace, but just to quieten the situation. But peace will take another 50 years," he said.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"Yasser Arafat has survived Israeli attempts to marginalise him"
US Vice-President Dick Cheney
"We continue to call upon Chairman Arafat... to renounce... violence"
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat
"We have not been approached for a meeting"
See also:

16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel's stay-at-home culture
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel goes in hard
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