U.S. endorses portions of Sharon withdrawal plan

Special to World
Monday, February 16, 2004

The Bush administration has linked its support for the dismantling of Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip to coordination with the Palestinian Authority.

In its first detailed response, the administration expressed approval for elements of an Israeli plan for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The White House endorsed the Israeli plan for the dismantling of Israeli settlements but stressed that this must be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority as part of a larger effort.

"Some Israeli moves to disengage by removing settlements could reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, improve Palestinian freedom of movement and address some of Israel's responsibilities in moving ahead toward the vision described by the President in his June 24, 2002 speech," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said on Friday.

It was the first White House response to the plan by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Until now, the White House and State Department merely said they were examining Sharon's plan.

McClellan stressed that the dismantling of some Israeli communities was an interim measure that could not replace the need for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He did not endorse Sharon's notion to redraw a security border in the West Bank without Palestinian consent.

"Some moves to disengage could help reduce friction between the parties," McClellan said. "But, again, this is a plan that they are still working on right now. And I don't want to speculate about their plans. We'll continue to have a discussion with the government of Israel."

Officials said the White House and State Department have rejected Sharon's plan to consolidate Israeli communities in the West Bank as Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip. They have also rejected an appeal for the United States to approve the establishment of a security fence in the West Bank.

For his part, Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration was concerned over any unilateral Israeli process.

Instead, the secretary granted qualified endorsement to the so-called Geneva Accords to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan, drafted by several Israeli and Palestinian politicians, calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip and the introduction of international forces to ensure peace.

Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that the Geneva Initiative is consistent with the third phase of the Bush roadmap "with respect to what a Palestinian state might look like living side by side in peace with Israel."

"But what we have to do is get started down phase one of the roadmap, and that begins with ending terror," Powell said.

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