- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

President Bush yesterday urged Palestinians to oust Yasser Arafat a leader "compromised by terror" and embark on democratic reform as signs of their commitment to work toward the creation of a state within three years.
"Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born," Mr. Bush said in a Rose Garden speech delayed a week by a string of terrorist attacks.
"A Palestinian state will never be created by terror. It will be built through reform, and reform must be more than cosmetic change or veiled attempt to preserve the status quo."
While setting out a few conditions for Israel, Mr. Bush demanded Palestinians replace their leaders, create a constitution and parliament to distribute power "concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable few" and establish security measures.
"When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state," the president said.
Mr. Bush called for elections of new legislative leaders by the end of the year, followed by a national election.
A senior administration official said Palestinians could fulfill requirements for a provisional statehood within 18 months and attain full, permanent statehood in as little as three years.
The Israeli government, which has opposed U.S. calls for the creation of a provisional Palestinian state before the cessation of terrorist attacks, praised Mr. Bush's speech.
"Israel is a country in love with peace. When the Palestinians have eradicated terrorism and have proceeded to democratic reforms, it will be possible to progress to a political solution," said a statement by the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Mr. Arafat sounded an optimistic note, saying the Palestinian leadership welcomes Mr. Bush's ideas "and finds them to be a serious effort to push the peace process forward."
"The Palestinian leadership and President Arafat hope that the details will be discussed during the direct and bilateral meetings with the American administration" and international mediators, his office said in a statement.
But the Palestinians rejected the call to remove Mr. Arafat as a condition for a provisional state.
"Palestinian leaders don't come from parachutes from Washington or from anywhere else," said Cabinet minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"Palestinian leaders are elected directly by the Palestinian people. President Yasser Arafat was directly elected in a free and fair election. The world and President Bush must respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people," he said.
The president without specifying Mr. Arafat by name called on Palestinians to elect new leaders "not compromised by terror."
"Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable," he said. "And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure."
But he commiserated with Palestinians, saying: "You deserve democracy and the rule of law. You deserve a life for your children and an end to occupation."
Mr. Bush also called for Israel to withdraw its forces to positions it held on the West Bank two years ago and stop construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
Ultimately, he said, Israel should agree to pull all the way back to its borders in 1967, before it acquired the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt while countering an Arab attack.
In addition, Israel must restore freedom of movement in the Palestinian areas, release frozen Palestinian money "into honest, accountable hands" and be willing to negotiate the status of Jerusalem, he said.
"I challenge Israel to take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state," the president said. "As new Palestinian institutions and new leaders emerge, demonstrating real performance on security and reform, I expect Israel to respond and work toward a final-status agreement."
Arab states will play a role as well, Mr. Bush said, by establishing "full normalization of relations" with Israel and halting the flow of money, supplies and recruits to anti-Israel terror groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
He chastised three particular Muslim nations for their continued role in supporting terrorism.
"Every nation actually committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups and oppose regimes that promote terror, like Iraq. And Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations."
The Rose Garden speech attended by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser came after a week of delay as White House officials mulled renewed violence in the region.
A senior administration official said the violence "gave the president a new passion a stronger passion than he's ever had, which has been very strong, that a two-state solution" is the only viable option to solve the Middle East crisis.
The official, who said U.S. peacekeepers are not in the equation, said the president's plan is vague because "it's not important to focus too much on boundaries."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the president "struck the right balance" in his proposal.
"His call for a new Palestinian state that works to end corruption and stop terrorism makes sense. But the president also understands that creating such a state will require time and a new, democratically elected Palestinian leadership. Such a new leadership must not condone or be associated with terrorists."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle warned that the terms Mr. Bush laid out "signal a beginning of a long and difficult process, not the end."
The South Dakota Democrat said he agrees with the president that "peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership" and that other Arab states "have a critical role to play" in helping to bring the Palestinian people a state.
Rep. Tom Lantos of California, ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and a Holocaust survivor, praised Mr. Bush as having "announced the end of the Arafat era."
While Mr. Bush took Mr. Arafat to task for his failure to stem terrorist attacks against Israelis, he said the only path to peace will be created by the two longtime enemies.
"This moment is both an opportunity and a test for all parties in the Middle East an opportunity to lay the foundations for future peace; a test to show who is serious about peace and who is not. The choice here is stark and simple: The Bible says, "I have set before you life and death. Therefore, choose life."
"The time has arrived for everyone in this conflict to choose peace and hope and life."
Amy Fagan contributed to this report.


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