PMO Rejects Palestinian Assertion on Right to Declare State

PLO body meets in wake of Sharon warning of unilateral Israeli action; J'lem sources: Qureia cannot take steps required to renew talks.

The Prime Minister's Office on Sunday rejected a statement by the Palestinian leadership reasserting its right to unilaterally declare an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Army Radio reported.

The report quoted sources in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office as saying that the Palestinian Authority could not even manage the cities under its control, and that it was therefore impossible in the current situation to talk about the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The PLO Executive Committee, one of the key Palestinian leadership bodies, met Friday night in the wake of a recent warning by Sharon that Israel would take its own unilateral action should there be no advance in negotiations.

Sharon said that Israel could give up on peace talks and draw a boundary that would leave the Palestinians with much less land than they seek.

The back-and-forth talk of unilateral action reflects frustration on both sides with more than three years of fighting and stalled peace talks.

On Saturday, Saleh Rafat, a member of the PLO committee, said Israel's actions would not prevent the Palestinians from declaring "an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 border." But, he added, there are no immediate plans to declare a state.

Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat also emphasized that a "two-state solution is the option of the Palestinian leadership."

Dore Gold, an advisor to Sharon, said over the weekend that a hasty Palestinian declaration of statehood would lead to instability.

"There are no shortcuts to peace," Gold said. "The way forward to peace... requires a dismantlement of terrorism and an unconditional cease-fire."

Jerusalem sources: Qureia incapable of steps required to renew talks Senior government sources in Jerusalem on Saturday said that Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) is incapable of creating the conditions required to renew peace negotiations, in particular in regard to security matters.

"He isn't capable of doing anything under any conditions," they said.

Contacts to coordinate a meeting between Sharon and Qureia are currently completely frozen. Dov Weisglass, Sharon's chief of staff, continues to hold phone conversations on occasion with his Palestinian counterpart, Hassan Abu-Libda, but the talks contain little substantive material.

An adviser to Sharon on Friday dismissed statements by Qureia that raised the possibility of a single Arab-Jewish state in Israel and the territories, in the event that no progress is made by the two sides.

The Israeli official, Zalman Shoval, called the remarks by Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, an "empty threat."

"Mr. Abu Ala has threatened to call for a binational state, but he may just as well call for a Palestinian state on the moon," Shoval said. "This is an empty threat that Israel is obviously not going to think seriously about."

Powell: U.S. opposes one-state solution U.S. Secretary of States Colin Powell said Thursday that he opposes a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the United States remains committed to the two state solution, in which an independent Palestinian state will border Israel.

Powell, speaking at a State Department press conference, expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Qureia said earlier Thursday that Palestinians would pursue a binational state and demand the same rights as Israelis if Israel carried out its threat to absorb chunks of the West Bank.

Asked if Qureia's one-state idea was viable, Powell said: "No. We're committed to a two-state solution. I believe that's the only solution that will work: a state for the Palestinian people called Palestine and a Jewish state, state of Israel."

"I don't believe that we can accept a situation that results in anything that one might characterize as apartheid or Bantuism," he added.

"Mr. Sharon ... is looking for reliable partners he can work with and his plans that he has spent some time presenting recently suggest what he feels he might have to do if he doesn't have a reliable partner," Powell said. "What we are trying to do is to get that reliable partner to stand up and start acting."

Powell said he hoped U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, "can build a little momentum to get a little more pressure from Egyptians and others to place on the Palestinian Authority."

"They've got to get going and they have got to wrest authority away from Arafat that will allow [Qureia] to start taking action with respect to terror and violence," he added.