Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership welcomed the Middle East peace strategy outlined by US President George W. Bush and called for talks on implementing the blueprint.
But a statement issued in the name of Arafat and his administration made no mention of Bush's call for new Palestinian leaders to promote the peace process.
"President Arafat and the Palestinian leadership welcome the ideas expressed by President George W. Bush," the statement said, adding they were a "serious" effort to end the Middle East conflict.
It said Arafat and his aides "hope to discuss details of these ideas to succssfully implement them through direct meetings between the Palestinians and the Americans."
According to AFP, the statement also looked forward to discussions with the United States' partners in the Middle East "quartet" -- the European Union, United Nations and Russia -- as well as "our brother Arabs."
Before this official statement, a senior Palestinian official said only Palestinians can choose their leadership — and already have in Arafat. "President Bush must respect the choice of the Palestinian people," said Saeb Erekat, an Arafat aide.
Palestinian officials took heart in Bush's saying that ending Israeli occupation is the only way to achieve peace.
"It is the first time that an American administration recognized that the only solution for this conflict is to end the occupation and to have a state to live in peace beside Israel — this is a historic change in the American stance," said Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman.
Ismail Haniyah, a senior figure in Hamas, said Bush had merely upheld "the Zionist occupation" and Palestinians would continue to "resist" it.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon echoed Bush.
A statement from Sharon's office said that "when the Palestinian Authority undergoes genuine reforms and a new leadership takes it place at its head ... it will be possible to discuss ways of moving forward by diplomatic means."
Israeli Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin said Israel was pleased with the speech but rejected the concept of a provisional Palestinian state. He said Bush expressed a "vision of bringing the Palestinian people to democracy and reform, and then to negotiate." (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )