The Palestinians welcomed US President George W. Bush's peace initiative but angrily rejected criticism of Yasser Arafat, while Israel rebuffed the US leader's appeal for military withdrawal.
France and Britain hailed Bush's move to re-engage in the peace process by dispatching Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East next week.
Announcing Powell's mission, Bush called on Israelis to withdraw from Palestinian towns they have seized in the West Bank and urged Israel "to distinguish between the terrorists and ordinary Palestinians". But he also condemned Arafat for failing to rein in anti-Israeli suicide bombers.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Arafat was ready to meet Powell quickly to implement UN and US demands for a pullback of Israeli troops and a ceasefire. "We want an American political vision on the Israeli withdrawal and an implementation of this vision," he told AFP. "The Israeli occupation constitutes the highest form of terrorism."
But Erakat and Palestinian Civil Organisations Minister Hassan Asfur rejected Bush's comments that Arafat was responsible for his own undoing and had "betrayed the hope" of his people.
"In his speech, Bush gave (Israel) a license to kill President Arafat," Asfur told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television from Ramallah.
Ahmed Qureia, the speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, said Bush's comments were "new and important" and he praised the U.S. leader for urging an end to the offensive. "We hope that Secretary Powell will bring with him a mechanism to implement this American vision," he said.
"If there is a ceasefire, there's no reason to stay in the Palestinian territories. But a ceasefire requires both sides. We alone cannot reach a ceasefire," Israel’s Finance Minister Silvan Shalom said.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, often a critic of US policy, hailed Bush's speech as a "diplomatic turning point". "I would like to clearly salute the United States' re-engagement in the search for peace in the Middle East," said Vedrine. "The speech is a real diplomatic turning point and the most positive element of the day and for weeks to come," he added.
In London, junior Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw said Britain also welcomed Bush's new approach. "The fact that America is engaged, is becoming more engaged, is extremely welcomed and it is something that the British government and our prime minister have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to achieve," he told Sky News.
European Commission President Romani Prodi declared Bush had shown true leadership, calling on the whole international community to unite to defuse the crisis. "I warmly welcome the statement of President Bush. It is an expression of determination and leadership," said Prodi in a statement.
He also warned Israel that its military offensive in West Bank towns was only inflaming the situation. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)