- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

From combined dispatches
RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinian officials rejected the removal of leader Yasser Arafat as a condition for statehood, as proposed yesterday by President Bush in a speech scripting a path to Middle East peace.
"Palestinian leaders don't come from parachutes from Washington or from anywhere else. Palestinian leaders are elected directly by the Palestinian people. President Yasser Arafat was directly elected in a free and fair election," Cabinet minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told CNN.
"The world and President Bush must respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people."
But Mr. Arafat welcomed Mr. Bush's Mideast policy speech yesterday as a "serious effort to push the peace process forward." He, however, ignored the call for a change in Palestinian leadership.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon echoed Mr. Bush.
A statement from Mr. Sharon's office said that "when the Palestinian Authority undergoes genuine reforms and a new leadership takes it place at its head … it will be possible to discuss ways of moving forward by diplomatic means."
Mr. Bush, in a long-anticipated address charting a path to peace in the Middle East, told Palestinians they must elect a new leadership that is "not compromised by terror" to win an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In Gaza City, the radical Islamic group Hamas dismissed Mr. Bush's speech as "biased" in favor of Israel and vowed to pursue its attacks against the Jewish state.
"There is no sign of hope in the speech, and we must continue the resistance," senior Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab said.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Palestinian Authority leadership welcomed the ideas in Mr. Bush's speech and called for more detail.
He also said international intervention to make Israel withdraw from Palestinian towns was necessary to carry out democratic reforms and elections considered essential by Israel and the United States for Palestinian statehood.
In Cairo, Randa Ashmawi, an analyst at Al-Ahram Hebdo newspaper, said: "It's evident that [Bushs] speech takes into account the pressure of the Jewish lobby inside the United States. It was very much pro-Israel and put Israel in a very comfortable situation especially when he talked about the need for a new Palestinian leadership."
But he said changing the Palestinian leadership was "a very sensitive issue and cannot be imposed by a foreign country, it has to emerge naturally among Palestinians."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said it might be counterproductive if Mr. Arafat were removed from power.
"It would be dangerous and erroneous to eliminate him from the political stage because in the view of the Russian leadership this would only radicalize the Palestinian movement," Mr. Putin said at a press conference in Moscow before Mr. Bush made his speech.
Some analysts said Arabs had expected more from Mr. Bush's speech.
"I think Arabs were expecting a more detailed timetable than the three years he mentioned and a more flexible plan, but I am speculating that he must have changed his speech and tipped it towards Israel's favor after the last few bombings," Mr. Ashmawi said.
A Saudi analyst, Dawood al-Shirian, said Mr. Bush's speech contained many positive elements and that Arabs must seize on these to try to bring peace to the area.
"These statements represent a positive step which Arabs must cling to and push for implementing it," Mr. Shirian said.
"But I am afraid that Arab states will be held back by Bush's call for changing the Palestinian leadership, ignoring the positive elements in the speech," he added.
Analysts said that while Palestinians would reject ousting Mr. Arafat, some Arab states would put pressure on the Palestinian leader to reform his administration.
"I believe that Arab states will exercise pressure on President Arafat to bring about transparency and accountability into his administration so as to preserve his position as the Palestinian leader," Mr. Shirian said.

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