Tags: Bush | Wants | Arm | Palestinians

Bush Wants to Arm Palestinians

Tuesday, 07 May 2002 12:00 AM

In a meeting later with reporters in the Oval Office, Bush said that he had a "really good conversation" with Sharon on how "to get back on the path to peace. I want peace; our government wants peace; the prime minister is interested in peace, of course."

But Sharon warned as he has in the past that it was "premature to discuss" a Palestinian state and urged reform. "I think what we have to concentrate on now is making every effort that real reform takes place," he said.

The Israelis maintain that the only reform would be the removal of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, who Israel believes is behind the terrorism campaign that has killed nearly 500 Israelis since September 2000.

Just as Sharon and Bush finished their roughly hour-long meeting, the two leaders were informed that yet another homicide bomber had exploded a device in a village south of Tel Aviv, killing 16 or more people and injuring dozens. It was announced that Sharon would cut his trip short and return to Israel.

Asked later by reporters whether this could effect the pace of the peace process, a senior administration official said, "The president feels very strongly that terrorism has to be fought, it has to be condemned ... that there has to be a recommitment to peace in the face of those who would do everything they could to scuttle it."

President Bush again called on Arafat to show leadership.

"I'll reiterate. I have been disappointed in Chairman Arafat. I think he's let the Palestinian people down. I think he had an opportunity to lead to peace and he hasn't done so," Bush said.

"And that is why it's important for all of us to work out a way to develop the institutions necessary for there to be a Palestinian Authority that's got the capacity to keep security, but as well, a Palestinian Authority that's got the ability to help promote hope for the future of her people, that there's an education system that works, a health system that's vibrant.

"The Palestinians need to develop a constitution, rule of law, transparency," he said. "They've got to have a treasury that is able to battle corruption so that not only do the Israeli people have confidence in the Authority, but so do the Palestinian people."

Later the senior administration official was asked if the United States stilled backed Arafat representing the Palestinians at peace negotiations. The answer seemed to indicate that he must reform the Palestinian Authority before it could represent the people.

"As one begins to contemplate the creation of a Palestinian state, it is very obvious there needs to be reform," the official said. "The Palestinian people deserve good governance.

"The belief is that we need to start now, and that is why George Tenet is going to the region in a reasonable amount of time."

The first object of "reform" is Palestinian security forces. The United States and Israel would like them centralized into one "unified" command, with clear lines of accountability. The belief is that a restructured and efficient Palestinian Authority security force would enable the PA to deal effectively with bombers operating from within the territories, which sparked Israel's recent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The official, again, indicated the onus for much of the impetus for change, especially with those that would enable the PA to quell terrorism, lies with Arafat.

"Nobody is trying to choose the leadership of the Palestinians," the official said. "What we will do is speak out about the responsibility of any leader."

The official said Bush "believes now that he has been released [from Israeli encirclement in Ramallah during the occupation] he has a chance to lead toward peace and not violence."

The official said Bush told Sharon what he saw as the responsibilities of Israel and the Palestinians in achieving peace.

Also needed are financial and constitutional reforms and a transparency that allows donor nations to see how their aid money to the PA is being spent. The Israelis have long maintained that aid money was diverted to fund terrorist organizations.

"The end point is clearly going to have to be two states living in peace and security. How we get there is something we have been discussing, not only with the Israelis, but with other interested parties," the official said.

Saudi Arabia's spokesman in Washington, Nail al Jubeir, was blunt in his assessment of Sharon's demands and their intent.

"This is the problem we have," he said. "His intention is to make sure nothing happens."

Al Jubeir said Sharon has opposed the so-called "peace process" since the Oslo Accords in 1993 and done "everything he can to destroy it. Now he is in power and his intention is not to go after terrorism at the time but to go after the Palestinian infrastructure."

Destruction of the Palestinian police, the courts and ministries, he said, undermined Arafat's ability to exert authority and deal with terrorism.

"You don't go after terrorists by destroying the police station you are supposed to rely on to arrest them," he told United Press International.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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In a meeting later with reporters in the Oval Office, Bush said that he had a really good conversation with Sharon on how to get back on the path to peace. I want peace; our government wants peace; the prime minister is interested in peace, of course. But Sharon...
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Tuesday, 07 May 2002 12:00 AM
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