Jesse Jackson Offers Mideast Mediation

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is contemplating involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and has had "private conversations" with both sides about the possibility, according to Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition office.

Jackson initiated the idea and the telephone conversations with the two sides, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

State Department officials said the department has not been informed about Jackson's offer and reacted skeptically about whether it would really happen.

They can't control private citizens' travel but they can certainly "suggest" to the parties that any involvement in mediation efforts aside from that being offered by the Bush administration right now would not be appreciated, State Department sources said.

Currently, special envoy Anthony Zinni is in the region on behalf of President Bush negotiating a peace settlement. In Atlanta Wednesday, Bush said Zinni was making progress.

"I know we're making very good progress. Whether or not we're able to sign an accord soon or not remains to be seen. But progress has been made and that is where the focus of this administration is."

Last time Jackson was seeking a role in an overseas conflict — with the Taliban — he called Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss it. It was never revealed how Powell responded to Jackson's idea, but Jackson's diplomatic role did not come to fruition.

Jackson has been on the diplomatic front before. In 1999, he negotiated the release of three captured U.S. soldiers during the Kosovo conflict. He negotiated with Syria in 1984 for the release of a U.S. Navy pilot, and was dispatched by President Clinton to Sierra Leone in 2000 to help prevent a return to civil war.

Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian representative in Washington, said he had not heard about Jackson's overture, but added Jackson certainly "has plenty of phone numbers" of Palestinians in the region. Israeli officials said everyone is welcome to visit their country and confirmed that Jackson had made some calls to his acquaintances there.