- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

AQABA, Jordan — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday vowed to dismantle “illegal outposts” in Palestinian-controlled territories, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas pledged to “act vigorously” to stop terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

In statements at the conclusion of meetings between the two Middle East leaders and President Bush, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas each offered concessions deemed most important to the other side. Mr. Bush brought the two leaders together at this Red Sea resort in his first visit to the region in an attempt to broker a peace deal.

“In regard to the unauthorized outposts, I want to reiterate that Israel is a society governed by the rule of law; thus, we will immediately begin to remove unauthorized outposts,” Mr. Sharon said. “It is in Israel’s interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state.”

Mr. Abbas, who has been supported by the Bush administration, which is seeking to marginalize Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, declared that “it is time to bring all this suffering to an end.”

“Let me be very clear: There will be no military solution to this conflict, so we repeat our renunciation, a renunciation of terror against the Israelis wherever they might be,” said Mr. Abbas, speaking in Arabic.

“Our goal is clear, and we will implement it firmly and without compromise: a complete end to violence and terrorism,” he said.

From the time President Carter brokered a peace deal between the Israelis and the Egyptians at Camp David in 1979, various U.S. presidents have sought to settle the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict.

After news of the statement, Palestinian radical groups vowed to continue the armed struggle against Israeli occupation, and Jewish settlers said they would resist attempts by Israel to dismantle their West Bank outposts.

Although Mr. Sharon’s pledge to dismantle “unauthorized outposts” of Israeli settlers in Palestinian areas stopped short of addressing the far more contentious issue of the 160 “settlements” that the Palestinians demand be removed, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called the move “a good start.” Trailers or tents on hilltops constitute the unauthorized outposts.

He also praised Mr. Abbas’ call to end terrorism, stressing that “he said it in Arabic, and he said it repeatedly.”

“I have never heard coming out of previous leaders of the Palestinian people and Authority that kind of unequivocal statement about ending terror,” Mr. Powell said. “I think it was an important and powerful demonstration of his intent.”

But Mr. Sharon cautioned that “ultimately, permanent security requires peace, and permanent peace can only be obtained through security.”

“There can be no peace, however, without the abandonment and elimination of terrorism, violence and incitement,” he said.

The two Middle East leaders agreed to work toward peace according to the guidelines outlined in a U.S.-backed “road map,” which sets out a timetable for the two sides to achieve a set of goals that culminates in the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

The issues are age-old. The Palestinians want the Israelis to withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were seized in the 1967 Six-Day War. Mr. Sharon’s government has agreed to dismantle some Israeli settlements built in those territories but wants to retain others.

The Israelis want the Arabs to end terrorist attacks and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Bush yesterday praised the two leaders for taking the first steps toward peace.

“All here today now share a goal: The Holy Land must be shared between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel, living at peace with each other and with every nation of the Middle East,” he said.

Mr. Bush designated Mr. Abbas the de facto leader of the Palestinians and lauded his commitment to fight terrorism. The Bush administration blames Mr. Arafat for failure to crack down on militants.

“Prime Minister Abbas now leads the Palestinian Cabinet. By his strong leadership, by building the institutions of Palestinian democracy and by rejecting terror, he is serving the deepest hopes of his people,” Mr. Bush said.

In their statements, the two Middle East leaders also acknowledged that it was in the “interest” of their people that the decades-old conflict, which has left thousands dead, be resolved.

The meeting of the three leaders — dubbed the “Red Sea Summit” by the White House — was presided over by Jordanian King Abdullah II, who urged the Middle East sides to end the conflict.

Mr. Bush said that although the primary responsibility to establish peace in the region lies with the Israelis and Palestinians, other nations — especially in the Arab world — must play significant roles.

“These two leaders cannot bring about peace if they must act alone,” he said. “All sides have important commitments.”

Mr. Bush announced at the summit that the United States will allocate funds to assist in the restructuring of a Palestinian security force and will dispatch a “monitoring” group, led by John S. Wolf, the assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, to ensure that both sides fulfill their responsibilities.

“And we expect both parties to keep their promises,” the president said.

Mr. Bush also assigned Mr. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as his “personal” representatives and ordered them to “make this a matter of the highest priority.”

Other agreements made at the summit include the following:

• Mr. Abbas pledged to run a Palestinian state based on the rule of law and democracy, vowing to prevent weapons from reaching the hands of rogue elements.

• Mr. Sharon said his government understands “the importance of territorial contiguity” in the West Bank, a key demand of the Palestinians, who want their state to be made up of a connected series of territories, not isolated pockets.

• Mr. Sharon accepted the principle of a Palestinian state. Mr. Abbas also acknowledged Israel’s right to exist side by side with a Palestinian state. In a goodwill gesture, Israel on Tuesday released scores of Palestinian prisoners in advance of the summit.

Like Mr. Bush’s informal meeting with Arab leaders on Tuesday, the summit yesterday included a folksy, 40-minute talk under a shady tree among the three leaders, with no aides or translators involved. “They got down to talking as three men committed to peace, committed to finding a solution,” Mr. Powell said. “My sense is that a degree of trust was created today.”

Mr. Bush clearly was satisfied by the accomplishments of the day, making a rare, 45-minute visit to the press corps aboard Air Force One.

“These first signs of peace happen when people make up their minds to work toward peace,” he said.

Mr. Bush said he was surprised by the achievements of the summit.

“I’m the master of low expectations. We accomplished what I hoped we’d accomplish,” he said. “Some amazing things were said. The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority talked about the suffering of the Jewish people. The prime minister of Israel talked about a Palestinian state.”

Describing his role in the summit, he said, “I show up when they need me to call people to account, to praise or to say ‘wait a minute.’ … It’s to keep the process moving. I used the expression ‘ride herd.’ I don’t know if anybody understood it in the meeting today.”

Mr. Bush also defended his decision to stay out of the Middle East conflict for the first 2 years of his administration. “There is no need to spend capital, energy and time unless there is a commitment to peace.”

He said that commitment has come in the guise of Mr. Abbas, whom the president praised for having “absolutely rejected terror.”

On Mr. Sharon’s pledge to dismantle “unauthorized outposts,” Mr. Bush said, “He said he would dismantle them. We now expect him to dismantle them.

“I also told him he’s got responsibilities. The fact that he showed up meant that he believes that Prime Minster Abbas can deliver and, therefore, we’ve got to work together to help the prime minister achieve his stated objectives,” he said.

Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas yesterday held talks before the trilateral meeting, which was held in a chalet at the Jordanian king’s opulent summer palace, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aqaba overlooking the Israeli resort town of Hila.

After the meeting, the president left for Doha, Qatar, the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command. There, he is to meet with Gen. Tommy Franks, who led U.S. troops to victory in Iraq.

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