- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

JERUSALEM — Israel reacted with disappointment yesterday after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell confirmed that he will meet with organizers of an informal Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.

The comments by Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, were the latest expression of Israel’s opposition to the meeting tomorrow, seen as a U.S. gesture toward the “Geneva Accord.” Mr. Sharon has denounced the accord.

On Tuesday, Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said it would be a “mistake” if Mr. Powell went forward with the meeting — an unusually strong rebuke from Israel to its closest and most important ally.

Mr. Shoval, a former ambassador to Washington, conceded that Israel cannot prevent Mr. Powell from meeting with the Palestinian and Israeli authors of the Geneva Accord, but said the effort would be counterproductive.

“America wants to promote the ‘road map’ [peace plan], and those people in Geneva … want to go in a different path,” Mr. Shoval said in a telephone interview from Italy. “Therefore, I think it won’t be very helpful.”

The accord outlines concessions by Israel that Mr. Sharon’s government has opposed in the past, including removing most settlements from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and dividing sovereignty in Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as their capital.

The accord also severely limits any return of Palestinian refugees to lands in Israel, which has brought condemnations from some Palestinian leaders.

The White House said yesterday that Mr. Powell was free to meet with the authors of the accord but emphasized the U.S. commitment to the road map, a plan designed to lead to an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

“The path forward toward peace in the Middle East is the road map,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, adding, “The secretary of state will make determinations about who he meets with.”

The U.S. gestures toward the plan have been seen as an implicit criticism of Mr. Sharon’s stance toward the Palestinians.

Staff writer David R. Sands contributed to this report from Washington.

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