- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

President Bush warned Israel anew yesterday not to take actions that would make it harder to create a Palestinian state.

“It’s in Israel’s interest there be a Palestinian state,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House. “It’s in the poor, suffering Palestinian people’s interest there be a Palestinian state.”

Also yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said after a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that he and Mr. Powell agree that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should begin immediately without preconditions.

Mr. Shalom added that he hoped Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia could meet soon. He said Mr. Sharon will outline his thoughts on future steps in the peace process next week.

In Jerusalem, Mr. Qureia told Israeli newspapers he is eager to meet Mr. Sharon and is confident he can reach a peace deal, even as a Hamas leader told thousands of supporters that the militant group would begin a new wave of suicide bombings.

“We are dying to talk to you,” Mr. Qureia said in an interview with the Ma’ariv daily. “I believe that if we returned to the negotiating table, I could reach an agreement with Sharon.”

Mr. Qureia’s remarks came amid increasing talk by Mr. Sharon about unilateral Israeli moves that would likely include a withdrawal from some parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the annexation of others.

The two leaders have not met since Mr. Qureia was sworn in as prime minister in October, and efforts to arrange a summit between them in recent weeks have bogged down in disputes over Israeli military restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and a barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.

Mr. Bush said Palestinian leaders should be “willing to reject the tired old policies of the past.” As he often has, Mr. Bush lamented that Mr. Qureia’s predecessor, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, had been “shoved aside” in September.

“That’s why we’re stalled where we are today,” the president said. “It’s time for Palestinian leadership to emerge that believes in peace and believes in the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Mr. Bush had pointed words for Israel amid signs that the administration is growing frustrated with Israel’s actions.

“Israel must be mindful … that they don’t make decisions that make it hard to create a Palestinian state,” he said.

Mr. Shalom met with Mr. Powell a day after U.S. diplomat David Satterfield accused Israel of doing “too little for far too long to translate its repeatedly stated commitment to facilitate Palestinian reform into reality.”

Mr. Satterfield made the comment at a meeting in Rome of European countries that provide assistance to Palestinians.

Mr. Shalom did not respond directly to the criticism but said he was in Rome on Wednesday “to convince the donor countries not to give up, to continue with their contributions in order to ease the lot of the Palestinians.”

Mr. Powell also gave fresh encouragement Thursday to private peace efforts in the Middle East, meeting with a moderate Palestinian, Sari Nusseibeh, whose grass-roots movement seeks Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr. Bush suggested such meetings are no sign of a dilution of his administration’s commitment to the “road map,” devised with U.S. help, that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005, with two states living side by side in peace.

“I haven’t changed my opinion,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m sure the secretary is meeting with all kinds of people all the time. But the policy of this administration was laid out in the Rose Garden for everybody to see, everybody to listen to.”

Mr. Shalom said revival of the road map and the peace process “is something that is needed now.”

“If the other side, the Palestinians, are serious about it, we would like to resume the negotiations immediately,” Mr. Shalom said.

He said he will meet on Monday with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Staff writer Steve Weizman contributed to this report.

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