Mideast Leaders React to Bush Peace Plan
The president said the U.S. would only endorse the creation of a Palestinian state if Palestinians elect “new and different” leaders “not compromised by terror.” Mr. Bush, who did not mention Arafat by name in his address, has criticized the Palestinian leader repeatedly for not doing enough to stop terror attacks on Israeli citizens.
Mr. Bush also called for the Israeli military to end its incursion into Palestinian territory and return to positions it held before Sept. 28, 2000, when the most recent wave of violence flared.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office released a statement saying they agreed a change in Palestinian leadership could pave the way for peace talks.
“[W]hen the Palestinian Authority undergoes genuine reforms and a new leadership takes its place…it will be possible to discuss ways of moving forward by diplomatic means,” they said.
Arafat said Tuesday he did not believe Mr. Bush’s statement was referring to him. As for who would lead the Palestinians in the future, Arafat told reporters: “This is what my people will decide. They are the only ones who can determine this.”
But former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who led the commission that developed the U.S. Mideast peacemaking guidelines, said replacing Arafat might make the situation worse.
“There’s a risk that someone from [the militant groups] Hamas or Islamic Jihad could succeed Arafat, which would make it much, much worse than the current situation,” Mitchell told NBC’s “Today” show.
Before Mr. Bush’s speech, Arafat had advocated new Palestinian elections, but has not announced a date for them.
The leaders’ reactions come as Israeli troops continued their incursion into Palestinian-held territory with a military sweep of Hebron in the West Bank.
Israeli military officials told the Associated Press troops entered Hebron to strike against the city’s “terrorist infrastructure.” Residents said the military has imposed a curfew in the city, confining some 100,000 Palestinians to their homes. Palestinian security officials said four policemen were killed in the operation.
Israeli troops have already reoccupied the cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm and Qalqilya. The renewed military offensive began after two suicide bombings killed 26 Israelis last week.