JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to get the cease-fire he sought as he ended his 10-day peace mission Wednesday, leaving Israel and the Palestinians mired in violence and recrimination.
Powell also was snubbed in Egypt as he returned home to report to President Bush. Still he pointed to what he called signs of progress, especially a promise by Israel to accelerate military withdrawal from the West Bank.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave assurances of "real results in the next few days," Powell said. "Only with the end of the incursion and with the engagement in security talks can a cease-fire be achieved."
He admonished Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat anew to "decide as the rest of the world has decided, that terrorism must end." But U.S. suggestions before Powell's trip that the peace mission would be Arafat's last chance had vanished by journey's end.
"He holds the office of the presidency of the Palestinian Authority," Powell said at a news conference after his meeting with Arafat. "So whether one approves of that or disapproves it, or likes it or doesn't like it, it's a reality."
Bush, in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, said Powell had made progress. He, too, urged Arafat to do more to stop violence.
"The Palestinian Authority must act — must act — on its words of condemnation of terror," Bush said.
The president will assemble his national security team Thursday to hear from Powell and discuss the possibility of a Mideast peace conference. Bush wants to be sure the idea makes sense before embracing it, said a senior administration official.
CIA Director George J. Tenet is likely to head to the region next week, but a final decision will be made after Powell's White House meeting, the official said. Bush and Powell also will discuss when Powell plans to return.
The United States hopes to "restart the clock" to conditions that were in place before the Passover bombing that killed 28 people in Netanya on March 27, with Israel getting a resumption of Tenet-led security talks and the Palestinians knowing that the political process is not far behind, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another top official said the region will get a steady stream of visits from U.S. officials prodding the parties toward political and security negotiations. Bush is trying to find a way to give Israel hope for an end to terrorism while giving Palestinians, in return, a reason to believe they will get their own state and land gains, the official said.
U.S. officials said Bush is no longer tied to the old view that security talks must proceed negotiations on political issues, such as dividing up land and deciding the contentious issue of Israeli settlements. He is willing to mix up the formula — or find a new one — if that would jump-start talks.
Powell, after meeting with Arafat Wednesday, met in Cairo with Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher of Egypt and Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher of Jordan before heading home. Powell was supposed to see President Hosni Mubarak, but was told Mubarak was "indisposed," Powell said.
That rebuff came as some in the Arab world complained that Powell had not brought adequate pressure on Israel to end its offensive, which is designed to stop Palestinian militants from launching more suicide attacks.
Israel must leave the West Bank before Arab states comply with calls for a peace conference or a cease-fire, the Arabs said. "We explained to him (Powell) that any talk of political or security issues must be preceded by an Israeli withdrawal and an end to the Israeli threats of either attacking Arafat's compound or the Church of Nativity," Maher said.
Powell, who held talks with Arafat in the Ramallah office where the Palestinian leader is confined by Israeli tanks and troops, said: "He has a powerful voice and can be heard, so he should use his position of leadership and his powerful voice," to end terror.
Arafat saw Powell to the door of his battered headquarters after their two-hour meeting, but did not step outside. He then complained angrily to reporters about his confinement and appealed for international help.
"I have to ask the whole international world, I have to ask excellency President Bush, I have to ask the United Nations, is this acceptable that I can't go outside the door?" he said, his voice rising.
Just next door, Israeli gunners peeked through half-opened windows.
"They are returning," Arafat said, referring to Israel's latest surge into Palestinian areas, after Sharon had said he would withdraw Israeli troops within a week from all towns and villages except Ramallah and Bethlehem.
Bush, in his speech, repeated his call for Israel to continue withdrawing its troops from the West Bank but did not reiterate his former strong demand that it be immediate. Bush also called on Arab nations to "step up to their responsibilities."
"The Egyptians and Jordanians and Saudis have helped in the wider war on terrorism and they must help confront terrorism in the Middle East," Bush said.
On the security front, Powell said the biggest problem was Israel's determination to arrest Palestinians in Ramallah accused of attacks on Israel. He said American diplomats would try to work something out between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In the meantime, Powell said a cease-fire cannot be imposed while Israeli troops remain in the West Bank.
Sharon adviser Dore Gold said Powell had not come away empty-handed, and faulted Palestinians for his visit's limited results.
"Secretary Powell goes away with a tangible Israeli timeline to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities and bring the current operation to a close," Gold said. "Unfortunately, Yasser Arafat has not reciprocated, has not offered a meaningful cease-fire."
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat countered that it was the Israelis who were to blame: "All we can say is Sharon did a good job to torpedo the secretary's mission here."