- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

Palestinian suicide bombers killed six more Israelis at a busy bus stop yesterday, even as the dead and wounded from an earlier bombing were collected, and President Bush delayed his anticipated announcement of a Middle East peace plan.
The White House insisted that the terrorists have not taken the "peace process" hostage.
Minutes after Mr. Bush was informed of another Palestinian suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said the time is not right to talk peace.
"It's obvious that the immediate aftermath is not the right time," he said. "The president wants to give a speech at a time when it will have the maximum impact to bring the maximum prospects for peace to the region, and the president will make that determination about what that time is."
A senior administration official said the administration's peace plan has not been derailed by the Palestinians, who often time their suicide attacks to coincide with scheduled announcements by Israel and the United States.
The latest bombing, at a bus stop in northeast Jerusalem, wounded more than 35 people in addition to the six killed. Police said the bomber got out of a car, ran toward a bus stop where hitchhikers gather and set off the bomb as a police officer chased him.
"It is another carnage, another brutal attack on innocent people who were standing, waiting for a bus," an Israeli government spokesman said.
The senior Bush official said there is disagreement among the president's top advisers about the timing of the president's announcement. Several of his advisers advocate a tough stance in the midst of escalating violence.
"There is discussion about whether this is the right time to unveil our plan," the official said. "Some think so, some don't."
The president's press spokesman said Mr. Bush has "come to some conclusions" about how to deal with the Middle East, "and when the president determines the time is right, he will share it."
Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld are said to oppose any timetable for a Palestinian state, which they say would reward the terrorists.
Administration officials say Mr. Bush's plan, details of which have been shared with Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, includes the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries within a year and a schedule to negotiate permanent borders by 2005.
Two Palestinian terrorist attacks in two days, which killed 25 Israelis and injured close to 100, prompted Israel to clamp down on West Bank territory and begin bombing runs on terror strongholds in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks, as well as the fierce Israeli retaliation, put the Bush administration in the position of talking peace while violence rages in the Middle East.
"It's hard to get people to focus on peace today when they're still suffering from the consequences of terrorism as we speak," Mr. Fleischer said.
The Bush administration's Middle East peace plan has been stalled at least a week as officials reiterate threats of consequences for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But none have happened.
Repeatedly asked about the consequences of Palestinian violence and Israeli response in defense of its citizens, Mr. Fleischer said only that "the worst consequence of all would be a loss of hope."
Asked Tuesday about whether Mr. Bush's strategy has evolved during renewed violence, White House spokesman Scott McClellan referred reporters to review an April 4 speech by the president.
The White House repeats its position after each Palestinian attack Mr. Bush condemns the violence; Israel has a right to defend itself; and Yasser Arafat continues to disappoint him.
"The president condemns the attack in the strongest terms, and the president understands that Israel is in the middle of recovering from a very serious terrorist attack," Mr. Fleischer said.
"The president understands Israel has a right to defend herself. As Israel defends herself, the president asks that Israel continue to remember the consequences of any actions so that the path to peace, the political path, can also be pursued."
The spokesman's remarks were taken as a tacit approval of Israel's stated intention to recapture the Palestinian-held territory on the West Bank. An Israeli spokesman said, "These areas will be held by Israel as long as terror continues."
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of Mr. Arafat's Fatah group, claimed responsibility for yesterday's suicide bombing. The White House said Mr. Arafat continues to let his people down.
"The president thinks that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority can do more to stop them, and they need to do more, they should do more, and they should want to do more," Mr. Fleischer said.
"If terrorism is to be condemned in not only word, but in deed, the Palestinian Authority needs to take additional action."
But, Mr. Fleischer said, this doesn't mean the "peace process" has been halted.
"I just have not heard anybody in our government come to that conclusion," he said. "And, unfortunately, there have been so many scores of these types of attacks that it's very hard to pinpoint any cause and action to anything involved with the United States."
Mr. Fleischer acknowledged that the terrorist attacks are damaging. "The terrorists are vetoing the peace process that would benefit the Palestinian people the most. The terrorists are the biggest threat to peace in the region. It's the people in the region who don't want to wait. They want peace. They want statehood. They want security. And the terrorists represent a threat to all of the above."
Mr. Bush has kept a low profile this week and has continued with domestic and foreign policy matters. Yesterday, he attended events to address AIDS in Africa and build character in America's schools.
Several White House aides said the Middle East speech could be delayed until next week but delivered before Mr. Bush heads to Calgary, Alberta, for G-8 meetings. Others said the speech could still be delivered this week if the violence subsides sufficiently.

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