- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

President Bush yesterday publicly endorsed for the first time the creation of a Palestinian state as the goal of Mideast peace efforts.
"The idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of a vision, so long as the right of Israel to exist is respected," Mr. Bush told reporters.
Just hours after Mr. Bush's endorsement, Palestinian gunmen broke into a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip and opened fire, killing two Israelis and wounding 11.
The gunmen slipped into the Alei Sinai settlement on the northern tip of the Gaza Strip, shooting at several residents and soldiers before entering a home, witnesses said.
Two Israeli teen-agers were killed and 11 more Israelis were injured, the army reported.
The Palestinian Authority denounced the attack, saying Mr. Arafat had ordered Palestinian security forces to search for those behind it.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon went into a late night emergency meeting with his Cabinet.
The Palestinian response to the president was positive.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat welcomed Mr. Bush's remarks. "I think it's time for the American administration to declare its support for a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel," he said.
The Bush endorsement of a Palestinian state comes as the United States is pushing Israel and the Palestinians to halt fighting, an effort that has taken on added urgency since Sept. 11 with the need to defuse anger in the Muslim world.
The State Department denied the Bush administration was changing U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians engaged in a bloody year-long conflict that has stopped the peace process.
"As the president said this morning, there has always been a vision in our thinking, as well as in previous administration's thinking, that there would be a Palestinian state that would exist at the same time that the security of the state of Israel was also recognized, guaranteed and accepted by all parties," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday told reporters outside the State Department.
Mr. Powell's spokesman Richard Boucher conceded, however, that the administration is aware that the suffering of the Palestinians in the conflict is a source of anti-American feelings in the Muslim world.
This anti-American and anti-Western sentiment is being inflamed by media coverage of the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, at a time the United States needs cooperation from Arab and other Muslim states to hunt down Osama bin Laden and other terrorist suspects.
"We obviously know that many people in this region are concerned about the situation with regard to [Middle East] peace, and that affects the atmosphere and some of the attitudes," said Mr. Boucher.
He rejected news reports that Mr. Powell had been planning to deliver a speech changing Middle East policy, and perhaps even hold a top-level meeting between Mr. Powell or Mr. Bush with Palestinian leader Mr. Arafat at the fall U.N. General Assembly.
The Sept. 24 assembly session was canceled after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
He refused to specifically deny the New York Times report of an impending opening to the Palestinians.
The Bush administration came into office determined to play a less-engaged role in the Middle East. In part this was because the highly engaged role of Mr. Clinton before him had ended in failure. The Palestinians refused to accept offers of land, peace and joint control over Jerusalem made by Israel at Camp David.
But the continuing violence in the Palestinian territories, along with terror attacks inside Israel, have left about 850 dead, the overriding majority of them Arabs.
The Muslim world, including pro-American regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have been swept by waves of sympathy for the Palestinians and anger at Israel as well as the United States seen as its mainstay.
The Bush administration is currently seeking to build a coalition of the world's nations to confront terrorism in the aftermath of the attack on New York and the Pentagon but has found that anti-U.S. sentiment is an obstacle.
Mr. Powell was asked about the report that he had planned to meet Mr. Arafat and change the policy of demanding an end to violence before asking Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.
He answered: "We've had a plan since the administration came into office in January, and that plan was to do everything we could to get violence down to the lowest possible levels in the region, and then, once we had the Mitchell plan completed, to embark upon the Mitchell plan, which would bring us to a point, through confidence-building and a cease-fire, so that we begin negotiations again between the Palestinians and the Israelis."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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