Powell Pledges 'Hands-On Involvement' in Mideast

One day after Palestinian militants killed four Israeli soldiers at a Gaza army post, Secretary of State Colin Powell (searchsaid the Bush administration would push forward with its goals in the Mideast despite acts of terror intended to disrupt the "road map" to peace.

Speaking to reporters while flying to Chile Sunday for a hemispheric gathering, Powell said  special envoy John Wolf (search) and his team, who arrive in the Mideast in a few days, "can't get derailed by acts of terror that are intended to derail. We can't let them (the terrorists) win."

The United States, eager to put the Palestinian Authority (searchon the fast track to good governance, will be closely involved in developing police capabilities and revitalizing the moribund economy of the territories, Powell said.   

The first order of business for Wolf and his team will be to ensure that Israel and the Palestinians are carrying out the promises they made during last week's summit with President Bush in Jordan.

Powell promised "hands-on involvement" in achieving the goals of the administration's peace plan.

Powell said the mission also will try to get a start on developing the Palestinians' capacity to deal with terrorism as well as on promoting a viable economy.

"We want to see if we can do things to get the Palestinian economy started and not just as a deliverer of aid," he said.

Powell is attending the annual meeting of Organization of American States foreign ministers in Santiago. He returns home Tuesday after a brief stop in Argentina where he will meet with newly installed President Nestor Kirchner.

Before he left Washington, Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice also discussed the Middle East on Sunday television talk shows.

Both said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should not be allowed to spoil Bush's peace initiative for the region. Lingering support for Arafat in Europe and the Middle East has complicated U.S. and Israeli efforts to marginalize him.

Powell will be back in the Middle East in two weeks for an international economic conference in Jordan. He will use the opportunity to convene a "quartet" meeting involving himself and representatives of the three other architects of the roadmap — the United Nations, European Union and Russia.

As for the Wolf team, Powell raised the possibility that it will be expanded as demand increases for its work.

He said he was increasingly confident of the Palestinian Authority's ability to utilize revenues "in a way that can be seen as accountable, transparent, so that the Palestinian people can see that their money is being handed properly."

The Bush administration is beginning its push for a settlement with the confidence of the two sides in each other at a low point, the product of nearly two years of violence.

Powell's trip started hours after the first serious episode of violence in the region since last week's Middle East summit. Three Palestinians dressed as Israeli soldiers killed four Israeli troops at an army post before being killed themselves.

Powell said it won't be easy to persuade the two rivals to opt for peace in an atmosphere of terrorism and violence.

On the plus side, he said the renunciation of violence by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is a recognition that such tactics won't "take the Palestinian people where they want to go. He knows that Israel will do what it has to defend itself ... Even in the presence of violence we have to do what we must do to implement provisions of the roadmap."

Powell acknowledged that a decision by the militant Hamas group to call off discussions with the Palestinian Authority was a setback.

"I am concerned that Hamas doesn't get it and that their activities will increasingly be seen by the international community as not allowing us to move forward toward peace."

He expressed hope that Hamas can be persuaded to re-engage with Abbas.

The violence was the first since the summit, but Rice said in Washington that it came as no surprise.

"There's no doubt that there are going to be those who try to scuttle" any work to bring about an end to the hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians, she said.

"But this is the best chance that we've had in quite a long time and the Palestinian people have had in quite a long time for peace and for progress toward Palestinian statehood," Rice added

Arab leaders can help by cutting off the flow of money to terrorist organizations, as they have pledged to do, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.