The president said, “To lay the foundations of future peace, I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas, and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied.”
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Bush said the U.S. believes Israel has a right to defend itself, but said “the occupation must end.”
Amid the largest military incursion in a generation, the Israeli Army recently took control of several major West Bank towns, including Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank. Bush called on Israel to pull back to former borders recognized by the United Nations and to stop any new settlement construction outside those lines.
Bush’s comments come after a wave of international criticism that the U.S. has not done enough to slow the violence or prompt peace negotiations. Major demonstrations in Arab countries have also led to concerns the violence could spread to surrounding countries in the Middle East.
While he called on Israel to rein in its military, Mr. Bush also had firm words for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Palestinian suicide bombers.
“The situation in which [Arafat] finds himself today is largely of his own making,” the president said. “He has missed his opportunities and thereby betrayed the hopes of his people.”
Israel has blamed Arafat for not doing enough to stop suicide bombings, and even encouraging terrorism against Israelis. The Palestinian leader has been confined to his West Bank headquarters by Israeli forces since December, and has recently had his movements restricted to a set of rooms in his compound.
Mr. Bush called on Arafat and other Arab leaders to send the message that “blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, suicide bombing missions could well blow up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state.”
An Israeli spokesman said the government of Prime Mister Ariel Sharon would not have any reaction to Mr. Bush’s speech “for some time.”
On the diplomatic front, the Sharon’s office announced that U.S envoy Anthony Zinni would be allowed to meet with Arafat ? a request Israel had previously rejected.
Meanwhile, two senior European Union envoys left the region today after failing to secure a meeting with the Palestinian leader. Sharon had said he preferred to keep Arafat “isolated” in Ramallah.