Thursday, January 8, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday dismissed a Palestinian threat to pursue a shared state with Israel if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon goes ahead with a security barrier that would cut off parts of the West Bank.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell defended Mr. Sharon, saying the barrier is only a contingency plan in the event that the Palestinians fail to become a “reliable partner.”

In order to be such a partner, he said, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia must get control of the security forces, which are now in the hands of Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Qureia yesterday threatened to abandon a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as envisioned in the year-old “road map” for peace in the Middle East that is co-sponsored by the United States.

He denounced the barrier, which is still being built, as an “apartheid” measure that would “put the Palestinians in cantons.”

“We will go for a one-state solution,” he said in an interview with Reuters news agency. “There is no other solution. We will not hesitate to defend the right of our people when we feel the very serious intention [of Israel] to destroy these rights.”

Mr. Powell, asked during a press conference at the State Department whether the United States would agree to a shared state, said:

“No, we are committed to a two-state solution. I believe that’s the only solution that will work: A state for the Palestinian people called Palestine, and a Jewish state, the state of Israel, which exists.”

Israel strongly opposes the idea of a single state, fearing that the Palestinians could soon overwhelm the Jewish population because of their higher birth rate. Israel is also worried that its democratic institutions would be destabilized.

Mr. Powell sought to dissipate Palestinian concerns about the security barrier, suggesting that Mr. Sharon is using it as leverage to compel Mr. Qureia to crack down on militant groups.

Mr. Sharon’s plans “are just that right now, plans,” the secretary said, and “he is looking for a reliable partner he can work with.”

“His plans that he has spent some time presenting recently suggest what he feels he might have to do if he doesn’t have a reliable partner,” he said. “What we are trying to do is to get that reliable partner to stand up and start acting.”

Mr. Qureia said the barrier would “kill the road map,” the peace plan backed by the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Israel insists the wall is only a security line, not a political border, and maintains that the barrier already has foiled several suicide bombings.

Mr. Powell said Mr. Qureia could help the situation by confronting militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“What we need right now is for the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority to get control of security forces and to use those forces and use the other tools available to him to put down terror and to put down violence,” the secretary said.

William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, will visit the region next week in an effort to “build a little momentum to get a little more pressure from Egyptians and others to place on the Palestinian Authority,” Mr. Powell said.

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