- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Former Sen. George Mitchell yesterday urged the Israeli government to implement a settlement freeze in the disputed areas of the West Bank and Gaza, one day before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to meet with President Bush.
The Maine Democrat, who headed an international panel that produced a blueprint for ending the violence in the region, told a National Press Club luncheon that a settlement freeze, while difficult for Israel politically, would be the most effective way to build trust with the Palestinians for new peace talks.
But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday that a freeze on settlements had already been imposed and highlighted a Defense Ministry announcement yesterday that 15 Jewish settler "outposts" were to be removed from the West Bank.
Some 200,000 Jews live in the 145 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Outposts are usually makeshift structures with few inhabitants, regarded by Palestinians as sites for future Israeli settlements.
Spending yesterday in New York, Mr. Sharon and his aides took a hard line in the wake of Sunday's killing of a Palestinian militant. A senior Israeli official traveling with Mr. Sharon said Israel may resume a policy of targeting other Palestinian militants for assassination.
Settlements are expected to be the major issue in discussions between Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon at their meeting this afternoon at the White House.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who leaves for the Middle East today, said the Mitchell Report remains the primary guide for U.S. policy.
"There are no new proposals or new political plans. We have a plan that takes us through the entire situation," Mr. Powell told reporters while attending the U.N. conference on AIDS in New York.
Mr. Powell said he hopes to take advantage of the current cease-fire negotiated by CIA Director George Tenet to begin implementing the Mitchell proposals — though Mr. Mitchell himself described the cease-fire as "obviously, not fully effective."
Mr. Powell said he expected to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during his visit to the Middle East, which would be the first time the two men have met.
Mr. Arafat was a frequent visitor to the White House during the Clinton administration. The absence of a meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Arafat has led some to see a stronger pro-Israeli tilt in the new administration.
Mr. Mitchell said Mr. Bush should meet with the Palestinian leader, but he added: "It is the intention of the administration to meet with Mr. Arafat at the appropriate time."
Former Sen. Warren Rudman, New Hampshire Republican and a member of the Mitchell Commission, referred to the settlements yesterday as "an extraordinary flash point for violence" and urged the Israelis to "show some good faith" in implementing a total freeze.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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