U.S. President George Bush yesterday urged the Palestinians to replace Yasser Arafat with a leader "not compromised by terror." In his long-awaited policy statement on the Middle East conflict, Bush said peace needed a "new and different Palestinian leadership" that could lead the Palestinians to their own independent state within three years.
He did not mention Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat by name but Bush was clearly calling for his removal. "When the Palestinians have new leaders, institutions and security arrangements, the U.S. will support the creation of a Palestinian state," Bush said. "If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption, and firmly reject terror, they can count on America's support for creation of a provisional state of Palestine."
American support for provisional statehood would only come after the Palestinians elected new leaders and built new institutions and security forces to halt terrorist attacks, he said.
At the same time, he called on Israel to withdraw to the military positions it held before the outbreak of the intifada, freeze on settlements, and as a democratic Palestinian emerges, "an end to the occupation" and negotiate borders on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
However a large proportion of the speech concentrated on the need for wide Palestinian reforms. Bush made no mention of the much touted international or regional peace conference suggested for this summer.
The Prime Minister's Office in a statement last night said "Israel is a peace loving nation. The prime minister has said several times in the past that when there is an absolute end to the terrorism, violence and incitement, and the PA undertakes genuine reforms under new leadership so that there is a different authority, it will be possible to discuss advancing through diplomatic channels."
The Palestinian Authority in a its statement said Arafat and other PA leaders "welcomed the ideas presented by the American president." The statement said the speech helps advance the peace process and "the leadership hopes there are discussions of the necessary details for the success of the ideas through direct and bilateral meetings with the American administration, and with Quartet and Arab brothers." (The quartet is the U.S., European Union, UN and Russia).
Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin rejected Bush's call for a Palestinian state, provisional or permanent, but said the speech was a "vision of bringing the Palestinian people to democracy and reform, and then to negotiate." He said that according to the Bush formula, "the first steps are up to the Palestinians, to reform their administration and "get rid of all those terrorists who live there." Likud Minister Danny Naveh said the speech would be remembered as "the end of Arafat speech."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaking on CNN immediately after the speech, said "President Arafat was elected by the Palestinian people in a direct election ... and President Bush must respect the choice of the Palestinian people." But just as Arafat's office was much more conciliatory to the speech, Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman said the speech was "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 an historic change in the American stand."
Ran Cohen, MK (Meretz) praised the speech for outlining a two-state solution and said that Bush "understood that neither side right now has the leadership to break the cycle of violence, so he decided to take action."
Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid MK was more critical, saying "the president's speech was more appropriate for peaceful Washington than for Jerusalem, and Ramallah, which are drowned daily in blood." He said the president's goals are proper and appropriate, but the president apparently has no idea how to actually achieve those goals."
Bush made specific references to the IMF and World Bank, along with the U.S. and EU, as being ready to help finance reforms, including judiciary reforms. "Reform must be more than cosmetic changes or a veiled attempt to preserve the status quo" if the Palestinians are to fulfill their aspirations for a state alongside Israel. Elections should be held by the end of the year for a legislature with normal authority and there also must be a constitution, Bush said as he set stiff conditions for a Palestinians state.
Bush urged other nations to stop the flow of money, equipment and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel. He specifically mentioned Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
"Every nation actually committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian arms to these groups and oppose regimes that promote terror like Iraq," Bush said in a speech outlining his vision of the future in the Middle East.
He also called for efforts to bring about a peace settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and "a Syria that supports peace and fights terror."
He said Syria "must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations."