- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

The United States and other mediators yesterday called for an immediate truce in the Middle East, to be followed by an Israeli withdrawal from areas occupied since the Palestinian uprising.

President Bush said peace plans are "not yet ready" and appeared to convince other mediators to keep the plans under wraps until after next month's Israeli elections.

Meanwhile, Israel's Labor Party has adopted a new platform offering the Palestinians parts of Jerusalem and joint administration of disputed holy sites the most explicit program of compromise laid out before an election by a major Israeli party.

Labor officials yesterday confirmed the content of the platform, which formalizes campaign promises made by party chief Amram Mitzna ahead of the Jan. 28 elections.

"The road map is not complete yet, but the United States is committed to its conclusion," Mr. Bush said during a meeting with the other three mediators, known collectively as "the Quartet."

But one of those mediators, European Union representative Per Stig Moeller of Denmark, told reporters after the meeting that "we have finalized the text." Another mediator, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, seemed eager to enact the plan.

"Now we have good document," said Mr. Ivanov, who joined Mr. Bush in the Oval Office. "And the most important thing is to implement. This is our main objective now."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the United States was less willing than the other Quartet members to disclose the document "because there is additional work that needs to be done on the road map."

"And so the president wants to make certain that the additional work can be completed, as well as to make certain that the road map can be received by all parties in a way that the parties are prepared to fully address it and move forward with it," he added.

Mr. Fleischer sidestepped a question about whether the White House was delaying the plan until after Israel's parliamentary elections, scheduled for Jan. 28.

But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who also met yesterday with the other members of the Quartet, said on Wednesday:

"Because of the issues that are before the Israeli public right now, we think it would be wise for us to continue to work on the road map and to wait until after the election is over."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denied that amounted to the United States dragging its feet. "We are not waiting. We are doing things," he told reporters.

The Palestinians also are expected to hold elections early next year, and Mr. Bush has called for the replacement of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Yesterday, the president made clear he remains unhappy with the former guerrilla leader's tacit endorsement of terrorism and the rampant corruption in Palestinian institutions.

"All of us must work hard to fight against terror so that a few cannot deny the dreams of the many," he said. "We must encourage the development of Palestinian institutions, which are transparent, which promote freedom and democracy."

But Mr. Bush, who last week was accused by former President Jimmy Carter of siding with Israel against the Palestinians, was careful to express sympathy for the plight of ordinary people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

"We must work together to ease the humanitarian situation," he said.

"Too many Palestinian moms and dads grieve over the future for their children, because of hunger and poverty, lack of health care."

The Quartet, which consists of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, issued a joint statement after its meeting that called for a halt to hostilities. Earlier in the day, Palestinian militants killed a rabbi settler while Israeli soldiers mortally wounded a gunman in a raid on a Gaza village.

"The Quartet calls for an immediate, comprehensive cease-fire," the statement said. "All Palestinian individuals and groups must end all acts of terror against Israelis, in any location.

"As calm is established, Israeli forces should withdraw from Palestinian areas and the pre-Intifada status quo on the ground should be restored," the Quartet added. It was a reference to the Palestinian uprising, which began in September 2000.

The communique also called for Israel to release tax revenues that have been withheld from Palestinians and review its rules of military engagement.

It also endorsed Palestinian reforms. "The Quartet reiterates the importance of immediate Israeli measures to improve the lives of Palestinians, including allowing the resumption of normal economic activity, facilitating the movement of goods, people, and essential services and lifting curfew and closures," the statement said.

The statement was aimed at tiding over the peace process until the road map is released about six weeks from now. That road map is a three-phase plan for improvements in security, Israeli pullbacks in the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian statehood by 2005.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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