The United States has demanded that Israel proceed with
plans for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and much of the West
U.S. officials said the Bush administration sent Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon a message that called on him to continue with his proposal for
a pullout from the entire Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank. They said
the White House and State Department rejected the prospect that a Likud
Party referendum that defeated Sharon's plan would end the Israeli
"The president placed a lot of diplomatic capital into the plan," a U.S.
official said. "Sharon can come up with another initiative and another name,
but we want some movement that is faithful to the president's vision of a
[On Tuesday, Sharon began meetings with senior Cabinet ministers to
consider a new initiative regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sharon's
largest coalition partner, Shinui, has urged the prime minister to resume
efforts to reach agreement with the Palestinian Authority regarding an
Officials said President George Bush and his aides were stunned by the
Likud defeat of the Sharon plan and the prospect that any Israeli withdrawal
shelved. They said the administration was persuaded by Sharon and his aides
Likud Party membership would approve the plan.
Instead, Sharon's plan was solidly defeated in Sunday's referendum by a
60-40 margin. U.S. officials said the administration would press Sharon to
the U.S.-supported roadmap, which calls for a Palestinian state with
borders in 2005.
"The president continues to believe that Prime Minister Sharon put
forward a bold proposal that can help us move forward on the two-state
vision that the president outlined," White House press secretary Scott
McClellan said on Monday. "This can help us get moving again on the road map
to help the Palestinian people realize a state of their own. And we have
had some staff level contacts already with the government of Israel. And
continue to consult with Prime Minister Sharon and the government of Israel.
And I expect that the government of Israel will have more to say in the
coming days about how they intend to proceed."
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was expected to discuss
the Likud defeat of the Sharon plan with other members of the so-called
Quartet, responsible for the drafting of the roadmap. In addition to the
United States, the Quartet includes the European Union, Russia and the
"They again will look at where we are on the road map and look at ways
to move forward on the president's vision," State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher said.
Officials said they did not envision any crisis in U.S.-Israeli
relations in wake of the Likud defeat of Sharon's plan. They said the White
House has refused to send a letter to Jordan's King Abdullah that
acknowledges Palestinian claims to the West Bank.
But some officials said Bush might reduce direct contact with the
Israeli prime minister. They said that instead Powell would deal with
high-level contacts with Israel until the November 2004 president elections.
"It'll be up to Prime Minister Sharon to decide how he proceeds within
his party or within his government," Boucher said. "I suppose this is
certainly a setback in what he had planned. But at the same time, we note
that there is wide public support in Israel for the idea of moving forward
and for the idea of withdrawing from Gaza."
On Tuesday, former U.S. diplomats and State Department officials
announced a petition that urges Bush to reassess U.S. relations with Israel.
The diplomats plan to release the petition, drafted by former U.S.
ambassador to Qatar, Andrew Killgore, at a news conference in Washington
later in the day.
"Early responses are staggering," the American Education Trust, which
helped organize the letter to Bush, said. "Signatories are united by their
belief that the U.S. government is heading toward great danger. Our hope is
that both political parties will take heed and listen to the voices of