- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

President Bush yesterday rebuffed demands by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to set a timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state, as the Arab leader defended Yasser Arafat and refused to set a deadline for an end to the Palestinian violence.
In a joint press conference at Camp David, the leaders agreed that the Palestinians and Israelis must begin immediately to take steps toward peace.
But the pair disagreed on the two main wishes of Mr. Mubarak: A firm timetable for Palestinian statehood to conclude within the next three years, and an end to the Bush administration's fierce criticism of Mr. Arafat.
The Egyptian leader returns home today with neither.
"We're not ready to lay down a specific calendar, except for the fact that we've got to get started quickly, soon, so that we can seize the moment," Mr. Bush said.
"Here's the timetable I have in mind. We need to start immediately in building the institutions necessary for the emergence of a Palestinian state, which, on the one hand, will give hope to the Palestinian people and, on the other hand, say to the world including the neighborhood, that there is a chance to live in peace, to defeat terror," he said.
Mr. Mubarak gave no ground either, defending Mr. Arafat and saying Palestinian violence is likely to continue until Arabs see a real prospect of peace.
"Look, we should give this man a chance," Mr. Mubarak said. "Such a chance will prove that he is going to deliver or not. If he's going to deliver, I think everybody will support him. If he's not going to deliver, his people will tell him that."
Mr. Bush said of that notion: "That's an interesting point of view."
The president meets tomorrow morning with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who, according to today's London Sunday Telegraph, will tell Mr. Bush that Mr. Arafat is living on borrowed time.
The Telegraph also cited Israeli government sources as saying that Israel is ready to force Mr. Arafat into exile if Palestinians mount further attacks such as the suicide bombing of a crowded commuter bus in which 17 persons were burned alive last week.
Even with such warnings in the air, Palestinians and Israelis traded strikes yesterday that left at least nine persons dead.
Two Palestinian gunmen killed a man, his pregnant wife and a third Israeli in an attack on the Karmei Tzur settlement in the West Bank. The gunmen slipped inside the settlement before dawn and opened fire on a cluster of trailer homes.
One of the killers was quickly gunned down by armed settlers. Shortly afterward, Israeli forces searched the nearby Palestinian-ruled town of Halhoul for the second killer. Palestinian officials said one Arab died in the raid.
In Gaza, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces repulsing two separate attempted strikes, the Israeli army said.
At Camp David, Mr. Mubarak said such violence will continue "forever" without a firm timetable for a Palestinian state.
"I don't think that violence will come to an end unless the people feel that there is hope for peace and there is something to show that peace is coming," the Egyptian leader said. "If they didn't feel that, they will not stop violence. It will continue forever."
In a lengthy opening statement assessing the Middle East situation, Mr. Mubarak said in Arabic that Israel's actions have caused the current crisis.
"Israel must end the siege imposed on the Palestinian people, and withdraw its forces to positions occupied on Sept. 28, 2000; and halt assassinations and the repeated incursions in the territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority; and immediately halt all settlement activities in the occupied territories, including the illegal confiscation of land and expansion of settlements," he said.
Mr. Mubarak also continued, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, his refusal to blame Mr. Arafat for the current spate of attacks and implicitly blamed Israel for its periodic sieges of his compound.
"Believe me, he cannot control anything," Mr. Mubarak said. "He has no tools. He can't move."
For his part, Mr. Bush continued to pressure Mr. Arafat to do more to stem the violence. But the U.S. leader also looked past the aging Mr. Arafat, who is 72, to other leaders in the Palestinian world.
"Chairman Arafat, as far as I'm concerned, is not the issue. The issue is whether or not the Palestinian people can have a hopeful future. I have constantly said I am disappointed in his leadership. I think he has let the Palestinian people down," he said.
"People have responsibilities to do everything they can to stop violence. Chairman Arafat must do everything in his power to stop the violence, to stop the attacks on Israel. I mean everything," Mr. Bush said, banging his podium.
Mr. Bush also noted there is "plenty of talent amongst the Palestinians, and if we develop the institutions necessary for the development of a state, that talent will emerge."
The two leaders, however, agreed on general principles, including the eventual existence of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.
Both acknowledge the importance of the U.S. role in the peace process, and both agreed that Israel and the Palestinian leadership as well as all Arab nations have clear responsibilities to work toward peace in the region.
After the 30-minute news conference, a senior administration official sought to put the brightest possible shine on the few points of agreement between the two leaders.
The official said, "The president continues to listen. He will continue to listen and that's where he is on the timetable."
"The statement by President Mubarak about if Chairman Arafat does not perform, the Palestinian people will not be satisfied, is an important statement, to give Yasser Arafat a chance, because it shows a unity of approach between the United States and Egypt," the official said.
"The focus, as the president said, is not on any one person but is on the bottom line, the results, the reforms, the changes that are vital in Palestinian institutions if a meaningful state that the world can count on to act for peace and for the best interests of its people is to be created," the official added.
But the official dodged repeated questions about just how long the Bush administration is prepared to "listen" and wait for action by Mr. Arafat.
The press conference was held outdoors, under a canopy of oak and poplar trees, at the Camp David retreat, where Egypt and Israel reached a peace agreement in 1979. Islamic radicals assassinated Anwar Sadat, Mr. Mubarak's predecessor, because he signed that treaty.
This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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