- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

President Bush will back an independent Palestinian state in the roughly 40 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip already controlled by the Palestinian Authority, according to Egyptian diplomats quoted yesterday in a prominent London-based Arabic newspaper.
The newspaper, Al Hayat, quoted a "high-ranking Egyptian official" as saying Mr. Bush's speech about the Middle East, expected as early as today, would contain two main points a Palestinian state in areas already turned over to the Palestinians under the Oslo process and the convening of an international peace conference by the end of the summer.
The newspaper, which said the United States had given details of the plan to Israel and Egypt, also said Syria and Lebanon have dropped their objections to joining other Arab states at the late-summer conference.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack refused to confirm the Al Hayat report.
It was not clear whether the substance of Mr. Bush's speech would be affected by a suicide bomb that killed 19 persons in Israel yesterday. But an Israeli official said his government will not accept any version of an independent Palestinian state until the Palestinians help put an end to terrorism.
"No Israeli will agree to any Palestinian state that is the mirror image of the current Palestinian Authority," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We can't move forward to any new political reality until these [terrorism] issues are dealt with. We don't believe we have a peace partner."
A provisional-state solution also would disappoint the Palestinians, who are seeking a fixed date for the establishment of a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza.
The Bush administration, which finds itself reluctantly drawn into an ever-deeper involvement in the Arab-Israeli dispute, would like to calm the region to facilitate the war against terrorism and potential action against Iraq. But officials have not been willing to comment on their plans.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher refused to confirm reports that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will visit the Middle East as early as next week. The secretary "did not and was not in a position to share any particular peace plan" when he spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher on Monday, he said.
A State Department official said that U.S. officials "continue to meet" on the Middle East peace plan.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday's bombing in Jerusalem would not affect the timing of Mr. Bush's statement.
"We've got to do everything we can and work working with the others in the region and elsewhere to move toward two states living side by side in peace. And we're not going to lose sight of that focus," he said.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials continued to blame Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat for inciting or failing to prevent the 70 suicide bombings since the uprising, or intifada, began 20 months ago.
But the White House spokesman said Mr. Bush, who has never met with Mr. Arafat, would not disqualify the Palestinian Authority chief from participation in negotiations on the proposed Palestinian state.

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