- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

KRAKOW, Poland — President Bush, preparing for a summit with the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinians, said yesterday he believes that the Arab world has a prime responsibility to seek peace by cutting off money to terrorist groups.

Citing Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, the president said the security of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state can come only with vigorous commitment from Arab leaders.

“There are responsibilities that all of us have as leaders, not only responsibility to the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, not only the responsibility of the Israeli prime minister, but a responsibility for the leadership in the Arab world to fight terror, prevent killers from stopping the process from going forward,” Mr. Bush said before departing on a weeklong trip that starts in Poland and ends with the Middle East summit.

“The most constructive thing that the Arab nations can do is to stop funding terrorism [and] work to cut off monies to terrorists whose design it is to stop any peace process. And that’s important. To me, that’s the most fundamental task,” he told reporters in a White House round table. More than that, he said, Arab leaders must refocus their commitment to peace.

“I believe, with the right effort and the right focus and the leadership, not only of the United States and Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but the leadership of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other nations of concern, Jordan, that we can defeat terror, the forces of terror that would like to stop the process,” he said.

On the ground in the Middle East, the Israelis and Palestinians neared agreement yesterday about disarming Palestinian militants before the U.S.-led summit.

The Jewish state has demanded that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas crack down on militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza that are responsible for suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

Mr. Abbas says he prefers using persuasion to stop the attacks and has been working to negotiate cease-fires with the groups. The sides said yesterday that they would be willing to accept a combination of the two plans.

Mr. Abbas told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a meeting Thursday night that the planned cease-fire would be only the first phase of a crackdown, a senior Palestinian official said yesterday.

If Israel refrains from military operations in Palestinian areas, the Palestinians would collect illegal weapons and force militant groups to integrate into the Palestinian political system, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Israeli reaction was cautiously optimistic, with Sharon adviser Zalman Shoval, telling reporters in Jerusalem that efforts to shut down the extremist groups could start with a cease-fire.

“There was an understanding, but I want to be clear that they have to start cracking down on terror immediately,” Mr. Shoval said.

The Israelis believe that Mr. Abbas is heading in the right direction, he said. “We got the impression that the Palestinians were serious about fighting the terror,” he said.

Mr. Bush said the peace process will move forward without Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who Mr. Bush said made it “impossible to achieve peace” because he has “failed the Palestinian people in the past.”

Mr. Abbas needs help from the rest of the Arab world in his commitment to the peace process with Israel, Mr. Bush said.

This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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