Archive for Monday, May 17, 2004

Powell scolds Arafat, Israel for blocking peace

May 17, 2004

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— Secretary of State Colin Powell came up short in his latest foray into Middle East peacemaking, blocked by Yasser Arafat from reshaping Palestinian security forces and waiting for Ariel Sharon to devise a new plan to pull Israel out of Gaza.

With time running out on President Bush's goal of an independent Palestinian state by 2005, Powell acknowledged Sunday as he headed home from Jordan that even opening negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was only a remote possibility.

"I don't see how we can get there right away," Powell said in Shannon, Ireland, where his Air Force jetliner refueled en route to Washington.

Still, Powell said, Bush "has made it clear to me to keep going."

In a renewed effort to restore the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace plan, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice planned to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia today in Berlin.

Powell suggested that Palestinian and other Arab leaders should persuade Arafat, symbol of the Palestinian movement for almost four decades, to quit as head of the Palestinian Authority to make way for a successor willing to end terror against Israel.

He counterbalanced criticism of Arafat with a jab at Israel, criticizing long-standing Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes to punish terrorist attacks. Powell said he doubted the tactic enhances Israel's security.

Powell prodded Qureia to "seize the opportunity" provided in an offer by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from Gaza, vacating all Jewish settlers, and to dismantle a few Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Qureia was noncommittal. He told Powell he would wait for Sharon to revise his retrenchment proposal after its rejection by his Likud Party.

Arafat in a speech on Palestinian television read his people a Quranic verse to "find whatever strength you have to terrorize your enemy."

In response, Powell on Sunday blamed Arafat for refusing to put under unified command the multiple and sometimes rival Palestinian security forces. The United States believes this step would give the those forces the power to stop attacks in Israel.

"Mr. Arafat refuses to allow the consolidation of security forces," Powell said at a news conference during an economic conference at Southern Shuneh, a Dead Sea resort in Jordan.

Powell said of Arafat's television appearance, "Mr. Arafat continues to take actions and make statements that make it exceptionally difficult to move forward."

Speaking on ABC's "This Week" before he left Jordan, Powell said, "What I need from the Palestinians is for them to get themselves ready to exercise solid political control over Gaza when it's turned back to them and to put in place security forces that can do that."

"What they need to do is to wrest control of the security forces from Chairman Arafat. ... The Palestinian leaders can do it, and the leaders of the Arab world can do it, by saying to Chairman Arafat that your policies have not been successful, your leadership has not be successful in moving this process forward."

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