- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

President Bush yesterday dispatched CIA Director George Tenet to the Middle East to help create a new Palestinian security force after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that was overshadowed by a suicide bombing.
Mr. Sharon cut short his visit to Washington and hurried back to Israel after learning of the explosion.
The blast killed at least 16 and injured at least 50 in a pool hall near Tel Aviv just after Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon sat down in the Oval Office to discuss sweeping reforms of the Palestinian Authority.
Neither leader mentioned the explosion during an exchange with reporters at the end of the meeting, and Mr. Sharon said at a news conference last night that the creation of a Palestinian state did not come up during his meeting with Mr. Bush.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice explained that while aides slipped notes to the leaders on initial reports of the explosion, it was not until the meeting was over that the leaders learned the extent of the carnage and that it had been caused by a suicide bomber.
The president then offered his condolences to Mr. Sharon and expressed his disgust at the resumption of violence.
But the bombing did not change the president's plan to send Mr. Tenet to the region to push for the formation of a new security force, constitution and other institutions in the Palestinian territories. The goal is to end violence and corruption by essentially replacing much of the infrastructure of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's regime.
The most dramatic of these changes would come in the form of a more "accountable" security force, constructed with the help of Arab states and other nations.
"George Tenet will be going back to the region to help design the construction of a security force a unified security force that will be transparent and held accountable," Mr. Bush said. "Unified means that as opposed to six, seven or eight different security forces under six, seven or eight different commands, there's one command structure."
The president did not specify what role the Palestinians would play in the new security force.
"There's plenty of nations that are willing to participate, so long as the framework for a stable part of the world is in place," he said. "Our job is to convince the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians that the reforms are absolutely necessary."
Mr. Bush shrugged off a question about whether Mr. Arafat will accept these reforms, which would likely undermine the Palestinian leader's authority. He also did not directly answer a question about whether the reforms would entail replacing Mr. Arafat with other Palestinian leaders.
"As to who's going to accept what, we'll find out," the president said. "I would hope that all responsible Palestinian leaders understand that reform is in their interests. It's in the people's interests."
Although administration policy calls for Mr. Arafat to be involved in negotiations, Mr. Bush did not quarrel with Mr. Sharon's insistence on bypassing the Palestinian leader in future peace talks.
"I'm never going to tell my friend the prime minister what to do on how to handle his business," the president said. "That's his choice to make. He's a democratically elected official."
That statement appeared at odds with the president's demands over the past month that Israel withdraw its forces from the West Bank "without delay."
At last night's news conference, an angry Mr. Sharon said no progress on Middle East peace is possible with a Palestinian Authority that he called a "terrorist and corrupt entity."
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush also reiterated his displeasure with Mr. Arafat.
"I have been disappointed in Chairman Arafat. I think he's let the Palestinian people down," Mr. Bush said. "He's had an opportunity to lead to peace, and he hasn't done so.
"And that's why it's important for all of us to work out a way to develop the institutions necessary for there to be a Palestinian Authority that's got the capacity to keep security, but as well as a Palestinian Authority that's got the ability to help promote hope for the future of her people, that there's an education system that worked, a health system that's vibrant," he added.
Mr. Sharon said until these reforms are implemented, it would be "premature to discuss" Palestinian statehood, a goal being pushed by Arab and European nations.
"First of all, steps should be taken in order to establish or to have real reform in the Palestinian Authority," he said.
Mr. Sharon also justified Israel's recent incursions into West Bank territories in response to a wave of suicide bombings.
"After the last operation that we carried out against the infrastructure of terror in Samaria and Judea, or as you call it the West Bank, I believe that there is a chance now to start and move forward," the Israeli leader said.
During their meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Mr. Sharon presented Mr. Bush with documents implicating the Saudi Interior Ministry in the funding of the terrorist group Hamas, which claimed responsibility for yesterday's suicide bombing.
"If people truly want for there to be peace, people have to assume their responsibilities for peace, and the Saudis must do that," Mr. Bush said. "And they're willing to do that."
The president pressed his case during a phone call yesterday with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
"I've made it clear to him that we've got to fight terror in the region for there to be peace, and that he and the other leaders must work and must convince the Palestinian Authority that they have got to do everything in their power to lead toward a solution," Mr. Bush said.
The president, who also placed a call to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, made it clear that security is not the only Palestinian institution in need of reform.
"The Palestinians need to develop a constitution, rule of law, transparency," Mr. Bush said. "They've got to have a treasury that is able to battle corruption, so that not only do the Israeli people have confidence in the authority, but so do the Palestinian people have confidence in the authority."
He added: "One of the things our nation will work for is reforms coupled with humanitarian help, reforms with the chance for there to be economic development, so people can realize a normal life."



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