Powell to push Sharon on Palestinian state

Special to World
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The United States plans to press Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to demonstrate his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state during 2003.

Officials said the Secretary of State Colin Powell plans to resume talks with Israel and the Palestinians to advance both sides toward an agreement on an interim Palestinian state over the next year. They said the U.S. effort had been suspended over the last two months so as not to disrupt the Israeli elections.

Powell's first task, officials said, is to discuss with Sharon his view of a Palestinian state and ensure that Israel takes measures toward that goal. The secretary has expressed dissatisfaction with Sharon's vision of a demilitarized Palestinian state linked to the termination of rule by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"You have to do more to deal with the humanitarian concerns of the Palestinian people," Powell told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier this week. "And you have to understand that a Palestinian state, when it's created, must be a real state, not a phony state that's diced into a thousand different pieces."

Last month, the United States rejected Israel's efforts to amend a plan by Washington, the United Nations, European Union and Russia for a Palestinian state. Sharon had sought to delay such issues as a settlement freeze, future of Jerusalem and Israeli withdrawal until the cessation of the current Israeli-Palestinian war.

Officials said the State Department would seek to focus on the so-called roadmap toward a Palestinian state as the Bush administration and Congress review an Israeli request for $14 billion in emergency economic and military aid. Most of the aid request is comprised of U.S. loan guarantees.

Sharon, who was victorious in national elections on Tuesday, has warned that he expects ministers of his next government to support the establishment of a Palestinian state. Several senior Likud ministers said they would not agree to this condition.

The Likud won 37 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel's media reported on Wednesday. The Labor Party won 19 seats and the secular-oriented Shinui Party won 15 seats.

The Shas Party, an Orthodox Jewish movement, won 11 seats, the National Union, 7, the left-wing Meretz, 6, the National Religious Party and the United Torah Front, five. Three Arab-dominated parties won a total of nine seats.

In his victory speech, Sharon called for a coalition of all Zionist parties. But Labor Party spokespeople said they plan to enter the opposition.

"I can assure Sharon that when it comes to security issues, we will provide him with an ideal safety net [to assure support in the Knesset]," Labor parliamentarian Shalom Simhon said.

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