- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

President Bush yesterday ordered Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the Middle East and pronounced Yasser Arafat a "failure" who should be replaced with "responsible Palestinian leaders."
The president also asked Israel to stop its operation against Palestinian suicide attacks, urging withdrawal from occupied towns now that Israel has spent a week clearing out terrorists. He specifically requested a pullout from the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Israeli forces have laid siege to Mr. Arafat's bombed-out headquarters.
"Enough is enough," said the exasperated president in the Rose Garden, with Mr. Powell at his side.
"When an 18-year-old Palestinian girl is induced to blow herself up, and in the process kills a 17-year-old Israeli girl, the future itself is dying, the future of the Palestinian people and the future of the Israeli people," Mr. Bush said.
The U.N. Security Council, with the support of the United States, in a resolution last night endorsed Mr. Powell's mission to the Middle East and demanded an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities "without delay."
Mr. Bush appeared yesterday to give up on Mr. Arafat as a viable conduit to peace. Just three days after granting the Palestinian leader an exemption to his "with us or against us" rule on terrorism, the president seemed to place the Palestinian leader squarely in the "against us" category.
"You're either with the civilized world or you're with the terrorists," Mr. Bush said. "The chairman of the Palestinian Authority has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorists.
"At Oslo and elsewhere, Chairman Arafat renounced terror as an instrument of his cause, and he agreed to control it. He's not done so," Mr. Bush said.
"The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making," the president said. "He's missed his opportunities and thereby betrayed the hopes of the people he's supposed to lead."
It was the president's harshest denouncement of Mr. Arafat and came a day after the White House said documents linking the Palestinian leader to terrorism suggested he violated the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Mr. Bush used yesterday's speech to accuse the Arafat government of trampling on human rights and inflaming the resentments of Palestinians, whom he said deserve better leadership. Although the president did not mention names, he made clear he is looking forward to the day when someone replaces Mr. Arafat.
"Responsible Palestinian leaders must step forward and show the world that they are truly on the side of peace," the president said. "I expect better leadership, and I expect results."
The administration announced that Mr. Powell will not arrive in the region until after completing a European tour early next week.
A senior administration official said Mr. Powell has been speaking with "other Palestinian leaders" and hopes to continue that dialogue next week. But the source acknowledged the White House cannot yet afford to completely ignore Mr. Arafat.
"Chairman Arafat is who the Palestinian people still look to as their leader," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It is simply not practical to say he isn't there when he is there and he is looked to by the Palestinian people."
Mr. Bush refrained from criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom the president described as understandably frustrated with Mr. Arafat.
"Given his failure, the Israeli government feels it must strike at terrorist networks that are killing its citizens," the president said. "Yet, Israel must understand that its response to these recent attacks is only a temporary measure.
"For seven days, it has acted to rout out terrorists' nests," he said. "I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied."
Israel said it would not begin to withdraw until it received concrete assurances from Palestinians that the suicide bombings would not resume. A senior Bush administration official would not put a timetable on an Israeli withdrawal, saying only that it should happen "as soon as possible."
Mr. Arafat said yesterday in a statement that he accepted "without conditions" Mr. Bush's peace efforts calling for Israel to withdraw its forces and that Palestinians stop terror attacks. The statement was read on CNN by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
But Mr. Erekat said that Mr. Bush's criticism of Mr. Arafat was "unjustified and unacceptable."
The Israeli Foreign Ministry in a statement also welcomed Mr. Bush's peace initiative.
"We heard positively the words of Bush about the need to stop the terror. We welcome Powell's mission to the region and we will do everything so that his mission will be successful," the statement said on behalf of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
The Security Council resolution, adopted unanimously by its 15 members, welcomed Mr. Powell's mission to the Middle East. It also called on both sides to "move immediately towards a meaningful cease-fire" and on Israeli forces to withdraw from cities like Ramallah "without delay."
Yesterday was the third day in a row no bombers struck, following a week of daily attacks. Heartened by this lull in the violence, the Bush administration tried to discourage Israeli provocations that might lead to a resumption of bloodshed.
"Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories must stop, and the occupation must end," Mr. Bush said. "Ultimately, this approach should be the basis of agreements between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon."
On a more immediate level, the president called on Israel to treat Palestinians more humanely.
"Israel should also show a respect a respect for, and concern about, the dignity of the Palestinian people who are and will be their neighbors," he said.
Although Mr. Bush yesterday reiterated his demand for a cease-fire, he no longer considers it a precondition to political talks. He also abandoned his earlier insistence that negotiations be headed by retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni.
The president explained that Gen. Zinni was "on the verge of a cease-fire" late last month, but "that hope fell away" when a suicide bomber attacked Israelis at Passover. Since then, the situation "has deteriorated dramatically," Mr. Bush added.
Gen. Zinni will remain in the region and was expected to meet with Mr. Arafat today after Israel granted its permission yesterday. It was not clear whether the Palestinian leader would meet with Mr. Powell, who previewed the president's speech yesterday for Mr. Sharon, but not for Mr. Arafat.
The president's decision to dispatch Mr. Powell is aimed at preventing the dispute from spilling into neighboring Arab states, which have been the scene of violent anti-American demonstrations in recent days.
The administration was worried that rising Arab resentment would imperil peace agreements between Israel and two crucial Arab nations, Jordan and Egypt. Earlier this week, Egypt cut back diplomatic ties with Israel.
The senior administration official said that while Israel had the right to respond to suicide bombers, the response was beginning to destabilize the wider region.
"It started to have a greater effect than just going in and rooting out a few terrorists," the official said. "It started to create conditions throughout the world that we thought were becoming dangerous to the point that the United States had to step in, play a leadership role, and act. And that's what the president did today."
Mr. Bush singled out Iran and Syria for particularly harsh criticism.
"Iran's arms shipments and support for terror fuel the fire of conflict in the Middle East, and it must stop," he said. "Syria has spoken out against al Qaeda. We expect it to act against Hamas and Hezbollah, as well."
"It's time for Iran to focus on meeting its own people's aspirations for freedom and for Syria to decide which side of the war against terror it is on," he added.

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