- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush insisted yesterday that Israel withdraw from Palestinian areas once and for all and told Congress not to blindly favor Israel over the Arab world.
Less than 24 hours after Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah told Mr. Bush that he was not doing enough to rein in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the president repeated his demand that Israeli forces stop their incursions into Palestinian areas. But instead of pulling out, Israeli forces rolled through four West Bank towns yesterday.
"It's now time to quit it altogether," the president told reporters at his ranch here. "It's time to end this."
Meanwhile, the White House disclosed that Mr. Bush and Prince Abdullah were unable in discussions Thursday to reach agreement on a new eight-point plan the Saudi prince presented. Its demand for an armed peacekeeping force and other points conflict with the administration's policy, but press secretary Ari Fleischer said the Saudi paper was constructive and that talks continue.
Mr. Bush also declined to endorse a bipartisan congressional proposal to tack an additional $200 million in aid to Israel onto a supplemental budget bill. The president told Congress not to go overboard in its support for Israel.
"This is clearly a Congress that believes that our relationship with Israel is unique," Mr. Bush said. "I also hope and believe that Congress recognizes we've got interests in the area, as well, beyond Israel that we've got to have good relationships with the Saudis and the Jordanians and the Egyptians and our foreign policy is aimed to do that."
Asked how he responded to Prince Abdullah's warning that U.S. credibility will suffer unless Mr. Sharon is reined in, Mr. Bush indicated that he stood up for Israel.
"I told the crown prince that we've got a unique relationship with Israel and that one thing that the world can count on is that we will not allow Israel to be crushed," the president said. "I think that's an important statement to make."
But for the second day in a row, Mr. Bush placed a greater onus on Israelis than Arabs in resolving the Middle East conflict. The president appeared increasingly mindful that Israel has not yet heeded his call, first uttered more than three weeks ago, to withdraw "without delay."
"Israelis understand my position. I've been very clear, and there's been some progress," Mr. Bush said. "We'll see what happens. I know they've heard us."
At the same time, Mr. Bush said he reminded Prince Abdullah during their five-hour meeting at the ranch "about the obligations of the Arab nations." The president said the obligations include pressuring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to rein in terrorists and cleansing the Arab press of vitriolic anti-Semitism.
"All parties have responsibilities in order to make sure there's peace," Mr. Bush said. "The crown prince is interested in peace in the region, and so am I."
He added: "The crown prince was clear in his denunciation of terror. Chairman Arafat has got obligations, and so do the Israelis. And I once again enunciated what those obligations are so that the crown prince understands my foreign policy."
The eight-point Saudi plan discussed on Thursday calls for an end to Israeli incursions into the West Bank town of Ramallah, deployment of an international peacekeeping force, reconstruction of damaged Palestinian areas, a renunciation of violence, a focus on talks toward a political settlement to Israeli-Palestinian issues and an end to Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas.
It also calls for the United States to support Israeli withdrawal from lands seized in the 1967 Middle East war, in exchange for recognition of Israel's borders.
Some members of the Republican Party have said they do not understand the president's insistence on circumscribing Israel's counterattack against terrorists while keeping the United States' war against terrorism open-ended. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas introduced a resolution supporting Israel, although yesterday he postponed a vote on it at the request of the White House.
Other conservative Republicans have expressed dismay at plans by the United Nations to dispatch a fact-finding committee into the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in the West Bank to investigate accusations of an Israeli massacre. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told Congress earlier this week that there was no evidence of such a massacre.
Mr. Sharon said yesterday that such accusations were a "terrible blood libel" and tried to delay today's scheduled arrival of the U.N. team until he can clarify the scope of the investigation.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed yesterday to Israeli demands to delay until tomorrow the arrival in Jenin of his fact-finding team.
The decision, announced by Mr. Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, suggested that the Israeli government had agreed to the mission but said a formal Israeli decision would be made tomorrow.
On Thursday, Mr. Bush called on Israel to resolve standoffs with Palestinians at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and Mr. Arafat's bombed-out headquarters in Ramallah. But yesterday, Israeli forces continued to encircle both sites, saying Palestinian terrorists are holed up inside.
After briefing reporters yesterday, Mr. Bush headed to another Texas ranch for what he called a "friend raiser."
"This is opposed to a fund raiser," the president explained.
"It's just kind of a cute way of saying, 'I'm going to go over and see people and thank them for being a part of my campaign.' And they actually get to do this for free."

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