U.S. steps up Mideast efforts

Bush call for 2 states, `Palestine' reference mark hopes for peace

`Moving forward' on vision

November 12, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

UNITED NATIONS -- By uttering one name -- Palestine -- President Bush set in motion this weekend a new American effort to end more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.

His call Saturday for a Mideast peace that provides for two states, Israel and Palestine, to live peacefully side by side was a carefully planned and long-anticipated declaration of the Bush administration's hope for a settlement to end a half-century of conflict in the region.

"The president used it [the name] quite deliberately," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press. He said the United States is "moving forward with a vision" of a two-state solution, one that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has accepted.

"It is appropriate, then, as we reach more aggressively toward that vision, to call those two states what they will be: Israel, Palestine," Powell said.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday, Bush said the United States is "working toward the day when two states -- Israel and Palestine -- live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions."

Bush's use of the name "Palestine" was significant in that it took the United States a step closer to eventual recognition of a Palestinian state.

It was also confusing: It is the name that Palestinian leaders have given to what they hope will be a sovereign country. But it is also the name of the territory under the pre-1948 British mandate that included what is Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. And in the past, the State Department used the name only when referring to the period before the creation of Israel.

The president, his maiden speech to the United Nations behind him, remained in New York for much of yesterday but left the heavy diplomatic lifting to Powell and other aides.

Along with leaders of the more than 80 countries that lost citizens in the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush toured the World Trade Center's smoking rubble two months to the day after its destruction by hijacked airliners.

It was Bush's first visit to the site since Sept. 14, when he waded into the ruins with a bullhorn in one hand and an American flag in the other.

In a Veterans Day tribute, the commander in chief said the attacks on New York and Washington deepened the nation's debt to soldiers who fight abroad and police and firefighters who serve at home. "The great purpose of our great land ... is to rid the world of evil and terror," Bush said at a breakfast as he thumped the lectern.

The president's reference to Palestine on Saturday was quickly picked up by Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. In his address to the General Assembly yesterday, Arafat said, "I would like to express my deepest appreciation to what President George Bush declared in his speech ... about the necessity to achieve a just peace based on the implementation of Resolutions 242 and 338, on the basis of two states, Israel and Palestine, and to expeditiously resume the peace process."

In taking the rhetorical step that so pleased Arafat, Bush showed more enthusiasm for Palestinian aspirations than for Arafat. The Palestinian leader, who was a frequent visitor to Washington during the Clinton administration, has yet to be invited to meet with the president, although Bush has spoken to him on the phone.

The president, who believes Arafat should do more to quell Palestinian violence against Israelis, did not feel the time was right to arrange even a brief encounter and handshake with the Palestinian leader while the two men were at the United Nations, where planned and spontaneous meetings among world leaders are common.

Instead, Powell met yesterday with Arafat and his top aides after conferring with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

"He [Bush] has given me my instructions to work as hard as the administration can, and I would represent the administration to get this started, but he thought this was not the appropriate time to meet with Chairman Arafat, and he looks forward that that time will come in the future," Powell said on NBC.

Officials were vague on what steps the administration would take next. Powell told reporters last night that he sensed "a new urgency" among both Israelis and Palestinians to end the fighting, which has claimed hundreds of lives, and said there were "encouraging signs" this could happen.

The first step has to be a halt to the violence and an effort by both sides to implement the cease-fire proposals brokered by CIA Director George Tenet, Powell said. This would be followed by steps to carry out a plan presented this year by an international commission headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

After a cease-fire, the Mitchell plan calls for a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, followed by a return to talks on a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Powell said, "We'll add more [ideas] as we move forward." There are no plans to dispatch a special envoy to the region, but,rather, to rely on diplomats there and Powell's efforts, which are usually made by phone.

Israel made no objection to Bush's use of the name "Palestine," but a senior Israeli official noted the ambiguity.

"The only objection we would have to the use of the term `Palestine' would be if it is meant as an alternative to Israel, in order to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Sharon. Many Israelis fear the Palestinians' goal is to wipe out Israel.

The Bush administration has been under heavy pressure from Arab leaders to adopt a more aggressive peace-brokering role and to persuade Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory.

Powell denied the new effort was made to placate Arabs, whose support the administration needs in its war against terrorism.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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