U.S. pushes forward with 'road map' to Palestinian state

Special to World
Sunday, March 16, 2003

The Bush administration has decided to advance its submission of a plan for a Palestinian state.

U.S. officials said the administration could relay the so-called "road map" for a Palestinian state to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority as early as Monday. They said Washington would forward the document immediately after the installation of a Palestinian prime minister.

The road map, drafted by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, known as the Quartet, calls for an interim Palestinian state as early as mid-2003, officials said. That would be accompanied by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a permanent Palestinian state in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Officials said Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be expected to respond to the road map within a short period of time. At that point, the implementation of the plan would begin.

"I would hope that they would be able to come back to us quickly," a senior administration official said. "I'm hoping that they can do this in a matter of days and weeks."

In January, the United States decided to withhold the road map until after the war with Iraq. But officials said opposition to a U.S.-led war against Baghdad, including from within the British government, led to a decision to highlight U.S. efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House Appropriations Committee that U.S. difficulties in forging a coalition against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein are linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For his part, the senior official said President George Bush, who announced the U.S. plan to submit the road map, wants a Palestinian prime minister to have authority to name a Cabinet as well as handle finances and security. He said any prime minister acceptable to the United States would not be "simply subservient" to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"That's what real authority means, a person who, in the Palestinian political world is not simply subservient to the president," the official said. "And it also has to be a credible person."

The Quartet would determine whether the new Palestinian prime minister has been given real authority within days of his installation, the official said. Arafat has named PLO Executive Council secretary Mahmoud Abbas to the new post.

The U.S. official did not repeat Bush's call in June 2002 for the removal of Arafat from office. In his announcement on Friday and last month regarding a proposed Palestinian state, Bush did not repeat his demand for an end to Arafat's rule.

"The American position with respect to Mr. Arafat is well known and I don't need to repeat it here," the official said.

The official said Israel would be required to "improve the daily lives of Palestinians" once the Palestinian begin negotiations on the road map. He referred to Bush's call for an end to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"The president has made his view very clear that as soon as we begin to get to work on peace, as soon as there is movement, we're going to have to address the issue of the settlements," the official said.

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