- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Palestinian elections

The Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, is asking the Bush administration to promote Palestinian democracy by supporting elections, which he said could be held in six months.

“The Bush administration wants democracy in the Middle East. Democracy, human rights, accountability, rule of law. As Palestinians, we want this. We stand ready. We believe we are ready. We want assistance. I believe we can [hold elections] in six months,” he said yesterday in Washington.

Mr. Erekat said Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is the head of a political party that could nominate him to run for president, Washington Times correspondent Tom Carter reports. Mr. Erekat was frustrated by the Bush administration’s position of isolating Mr. Arafat and calling him an enemy of a peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I hope they will stop tutoring us on the democracy of excluding candidates,” he said.

Mr. Erekat said the Palestinian Authority’s goal is for local, legislative and presidential elections throughout the territory, and he appealed for up to 7,000 international observers to monitor the vote.

“What happens if, on the day of the election, Israel arrests a candidate, under the pretext that he is a security threat? The elections are then dead,” he said.

Mr. Erekat asked for U.S. observers when he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Wednesday, but Mr. Powell was noncommittal.

“At the same time, he did not say ‘no,’ ” Mr. Erekat said.

He also asked the United States to support the “Egyptian Initiative” to train and equip Palestinian security forces, so that “when and if” the Israelis leave the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority will be able to provide security.

“I see a chance, a shy ray of hope,” he said.

Israel resolved

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon yesterday praised Congress for adopting a resolution that endorses President Bush’s support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw troops from Palestinian areas.

“This resolution reaffirms the strong relationship between Israel and the United States, our greatest friend and ally,” Mr. Ayalon said. “The U.S. Congress has always been the bedrock of U.S.-Israeli relations.”

He said the resolution reflects U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and “its determination to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East.”

The resolution — sponsored by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat — endorsed Mr. Bush’s April 14 letter to Mr. Sharon in which the president backed the Israeli plan for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank.

“By strongly endorsing the principles set for in President Bush’s [letter] … the U.S. Congress took an important step in promoting peace and stability in our region,” Mr. Ayalon said.

Mr. Sharon’s plan also rejects a long-standing Arab demand that Palestinian refugees who fled Israel be allowed to return to the Jewish state. Mr. Sharon insists they would have to relocate to a new Palestinian state.

The resolution, which passed both houses of Congress, said Mr. Sharon’s plan will “enhance the security of Israel and further the cause of peace in the Middle East.”

Mr. Bush’s letter recognizes the “new realities on the ground in Israel,” the resolution said, explaining that any demand that Israel withdraw to the original 1948 border is “unrealistic.”

The resolution also calls on “the international community to build the capacity and will of Palestinian institutions to fight terrorism, dismantle terrorist organizations and prevent the areas from which Israel has withdrawn from posing a threat to the security of Israel.”

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