- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

The White House said yesterday it never expected Israel to "salute and say yes" to President Bush's demand for withdrawal from Palestinian territories in "a mere eight days," and it scolded Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for defying the president.
With Israeli forces making new incursions into Palestinian towns while pulling out of others, the White House appeared to be giving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon additional room to maneuver as he prepared to meet with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell today. That is a marked departure from last week's stern call by Mr. Bush to withdraw "without delay."
The president's remarks, which put pressure on the Israelis to cut short their campaign against terrorists on the West Bank, have been the subject of growing criticism by some of the president's strongest supporters. A group of evangelical Christian pastors and other leaders yesterday sent a letter to Mr. Bush, urging him to "stand with Israel."
"Listen, the president gave a speech in the Rose Garden on April 3," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday. "No one should expect, and I think very few people do expect, all of a sudden here on April 11 for the world to snap, salute and listen to what the United States said just a short eight days ago."
He added: "It's just unreasonable for anybody to think that a mere eight days after a very important presidential speech, that these parties who have been divided for decades would all of a sudden snap to, salute, and say 'It's over. We're done. We agree.' That's not the way the Middle East works."
Mr. Fleischer praised Mr. Sharon as "a man of peace" who has begun to comply with the president's demands, and he had harsh words for the Palestinian leader. "Yasser Arafat has yet to earn the president's trust" because the Palestinian leader's words are "not enough," he said. The White House also began referring to the recent wave of Palestinian suicide bombers as "homicide" bombers.
"Israel is continuing its withdrawal, as the president asked," the presidential spokesman said. "The Palestinian Authority has responsibilities they have not yet taken."
He added: "The Palestinian Authority needs to renounce terrorism, because despite what Chairman Arafat said at Oslo, the Palestinian Authority has not done so."
Specifically, Mr. Arafat has not yet heeded the president's call to publicly denounce in Arabic suicide bombings and other forms of violence as a political instrument. Nor have Palestinian security forces ceded to Mr. Bush's demand for a crackdown on terrorists.
Mr. Arafat also has ignored the president's call to declare a cease-fire, although he has voiced support for proposals by three American peace envoys, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, CIA Director George J. Tenet and former Sen. George J. Mitchell, Maine Democrat.
The White House was skeptical.
"There are statements from the Palestinian Authority that ostensibly commit themselves to implementation of the Zinni mission, as well as the Mitchell accord," Mr. Fleischer said. "There were some soundings about the Zinni plan and the Mitchell accords, which sounded right; but when it came to the actual implementation, they fell short."
The White House also gave Mr. Arafat little credit for plans to meet with Mr. Powell tomorrow.
"It's one thing to have a meeting. There have been many meetings," Mr. Fleischer said. "It's one thing to have promises or statements. There have been promises before. The president is interested in the bottom line from Chairman Arafat, and that's results and results only."
While there was no such tough talk against Mr. Sharon, the White House criticized Arab nations for not heeding the call to pressure Mr. Arafat into stopping the violence.
"The Arab nations in the region have responsibilities that the president has called for, which he is still looking for results," Mr. Fleischer said. "The Arab nations need to step up to their responsibilities to take on terrorists, to stop funding terrorists, to condemn terrorists."
The administration was especially perplexed that Arab states have not reined in their state-controlled media outlets, which often publish virulently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda. Leaders of these nations have pledged their support to Mr. Powell in recent days, although none of them wants to make the first move.
"People are looking to each other for 'you go first. No, you go first. No, you go first,'" Mr. Fleischer explained. "But that's the purpose of diplomacy. That's the mission of diplomacy, and that's why the secretary is on the ground."
Although the White House has been reluctant to criticize Saudi Arabia, the administration could not ignore an embassy Web site that showed that the Saudi government was giving funds to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
"If there's any evidence that any nations are providing money, that is something the president would condemn and call on them to stop," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Bush discussed the Middle East conflict and America's war on terrorism with congressional leaders from both parties at a White House breakfast yesterday. But after leaving the West Wing, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt accused the president of not keeping Congress sufficiently informed.
"There is no collaboration. There is no communication," the Missouri Democrat told a liberal political gathering. "It is: 'We know the truth. You don't know anything. Get in the back of the bus and we'll drive the bus, I guess, right over the cliff.'"
Mr. Fleischer bristled at suggestions his boss is ignoring Congress.
"This president and this administration, in the midst of a war against terrorism, in the midst of a terrible situation in the Middle East, have carved out of their schedules considerable time to keep the Capitol informed," he said. "Sometimes, you just have to recognize in Washington no amount of consultation is ever enough for the Hill, and I think that extends well before this administration."
Mr. Gephardt yesterday sent the president a letter asking for more frequent consultations with larger congressional groups, including key members of committees.
Mr. Fleischer suggested that when the White House held such meetings in the past, Democrats ignored the administration's pleas to enact the president's legislation.

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