- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday floated the possibility of a short-term or interim Palestinian state, an idea that was swiftly rejected by President Bush's spokesman.

Mr. Powell told reporters aboard his plane: "There are those who believe that unless you have a political horizon put in place that people can see, it'll be hard for the Arabs or Palestinians to move forward with the kinds of reforms that are required to improve security and to bring greater accountability to the Palestinian leadership.

"Along with that line of thinking is the proposition that before you can get to that end state, you may need a provisional arrangement, or an interim state, on the way there."

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed the proposal.

"Welcome to the Middle East. This is a situation where people get a variety of information, a variety of advice. And if the president has anything further to indicate, he will," Mr. Fleischer said of the plan.

Mr. Powell first mentioned the idea as a solution in an interview published Monday in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al Hayat and elaborated yesterday to reporters.

"It isn't all that new and revolutionary a suggestion," Mr. Powell said as he flew to a meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Western Canada.

"[The interim Palestinian state] has been a pretty consistent element in all of the discussions about how to move forward in the Middle East," he said.

Mr. Fleischer also implied that Mr. Powell was repeating ideas he had gleaned from meetings with foreign leaders.

"The secretary, from time to time, will reflect on the advice that he gets and do so publicly, which is his prerogative, of course," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Powell also distanced himself from the concept, telling reporters yesterday: "I did not say there would be a state. I said these are the ideas that are out there."

Mr. Powell declined to say whether he believed Yasser Arafat would head any new state, telling reporters, "It would be premature for me to tell you who's going to be in charge of it, how it's organized, all the other things that go with that."

Mr. Powell's interview with Al Hayat, a widely respected publication, delineated three key policies in which Mr. Powell and the Arab states largely agree. They are an "end of the occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel, "the creation of a state called Palestine" and "the end of settlement activity."

Although previous Israeli governments have largely accepted those ideas, the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has reacted to the 20-month Palestinian uprising by refusing to agree to anything until the violence ends.

Mr. Powell said the idea of a provisional Palestinian state was to be discussed at a Middle East peace conference this summer. But Mr. Bush said after a meeting with Mr. Sharon on Monday that the international conference was unlikely to take place.

The State Department has been unable to reconcile the various extreme views about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to a point where a conference is feasible.

The State Department-White House split on the Middle East reflects a deeper policy rift.

Mr. Powell is seen as a conciliator aiming to force both the Israelis and Palestinians to make compromises and restart talks even though the violence has not ended.

But Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are seen as more hawkish supporters of Israel, seeking an end to Palestinian attacks before asking Israel to sit down for talks.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell are to wrap up several weeks of consultations with Middle East leaders at the end of this week when they meet Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal in Washington.

Mr. Bush is then expected to deliver a "vision" of the U.S. view of Middle East peace, Mr. Powell said Tuesday.

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