- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

President Bush yesterday said the conditions are not right for a Middle East peace conference and blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not establishing that he can be trusted.
Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the White House as Israeli tanks encircled Mr. Arafat's West Bank compound, Mr. Bush also said Israel has a right to retaliate against "people in the Middle East who want to use terror as a way to derail any peace process."
"Israel has a right to defend herself," Mr. Bush said after an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Sharon.
Just two days after Mr. Bush rejected Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's call to set a timetable for establishing a Palestinian state, the president said he has seen nothing that indicates Mr. Arafat is ready to work toward peace.
"The conditions aren't even there yet. That's because no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government," Mr. Bush said.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said talks are continuing to set up a ministerial summit sometime this summer and that Mr. Bush's comments do not mean the United States is withdrawing from the process.
Mr. Bush said Palestinian leaders must make strides toward peace before the conditions will be ripe for peace talks.
"First things first, and that is, what institutions are necessary to give the Palestinian people hope and to give the Israelis confidence that the emerging government will be someone with whom they can deal? And that's going to require security steps; transparency, when it comes to economic matters; anti-corruption devices; rule of law, enforced by a court system," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Sharon said Israel is "committed to peace" but that several conditions must be met before the peace process can move forward.
"In order to achieve peace in the Middle East, first of all we have to have security. It should be a full cessation of terror hostilities and incitement. And, of course, we must have a partner for negotiations," the Israeli leader said.
"At the present time, we don't see yet a partner. We hope it'll be a partner there with whom we'll be able to move forward, first to achieve a doable peace in the area and, second, of course, to provide security to the citizens of our countries."
Mr. Bush went further, saying the Middle East crisis is far larger than just how to deal with Mr. Arafat.
"I don't think Mr. Arafat is the issue. I think the issue is the Palestinian people. And as I have expressed myself, I am disappointed that he has not led in such a way that the Palestinian people have hope and confidence.
"And so, therefore, what we've got to do is work to put institutions in place which will allow for a government to develop which will bring confidence not only to Israelis, but the Palestinians," Mr. Bush said.
As he has before, the president called on Arab leaders in the region to exert their influence.
"We're going to continue to work together along with some of the Arab leaders to fight off terror, to prevent the few from dictating against the will of the many in the region," he said.
In Ramallah, two dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers, backed by helicopter and machine-gun fire, swept into town and surrounded Mr. Arafat's compound. Israel also imposed a curfew on the city, residents said.
Mr. Fleischer defended the move, saying the incursion would be "limited in duration" with a clear goal to go after "terrorists." Still, the support came with a caveat.
"[T]he United States again reminds Israel about the importance of remembering the repercussions of any action Israel takes today impacting the broader goals of achieving peace tomorrow," the Bush spokesman said.
Neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Sharon put much stock in Mr. Arafat's decision to shuffle his Cabinet or the Palestinian leader's appointment of a general to head a streamlined security force.
Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian West Bank security chief, said the first meeting of the revamped Cabinet, scheduled for today, was canceled because of the Israeli troop presence in the city.
On Sunday, Mr. Sharon ruled out an Israeli pullback to the country's 1967 borders, the key element of a Saudi peace proposal endorsed by the United States and almost all Arab states.
"Israel will not return to the vulnerable 1967 armistice lines, redivide Jerusalem or concede its right to defensible borders," Mr. Sharon wrote in a column in The New York Times.
Mr. Sharon, in his sixth meeting with the U.S. president, hopes to dissuade Mr. Bush from acceding to a call from the Egyptian leader to set a timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state.
On Saturday, Mr. Bush rebuffed the suggestion of Mr. Mubarak, who defended Mr. Arafat's continued silence about suicide attacks.
"We're not ready to lay down a specific calendar, except for the fact that we've got to get started quickly, soon, so that we can seize the moment," Mr. Bush said at Camp David.
Mr. Mubarak said Mr. Arafat needs more time to implement changes to his government.
"Look, we should give this man a chance. Such a chance will prove that he is going to deliver or not. If he's going to deliver, I think everybody will support him. If he's not going to deliver, his people will tell him that."
On the escalating violence in Israel, Mr. Mubarak said: "I don't think that violence will come to an end unless the people feel that there is hope for peace and there is something to show that peace is coming. If they didn't feel that, they will not stop violence. It will continue forever."
Mr. Sharon will meet today with members of Congress and will fly to London tomorrow for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.


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