U.S. assures Arab states on Israeli withdrawal plan

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Bush administration has briefed Arab states on the implications of U.S. support for Israel's withdrawal plan.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his aides have explained that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed withdrawal provides the Palestinians with a state as well as thousands of Israeli homes.

"The Palestinians will take those settlements openly," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said. "For the first time in how many years, the Palestinians will have direct access to an Arab neighbor [Egypt], which we hope and pray bring enormous interchange, commerce. We were very careful to say that, ultimately, this does not prejudge final status. These have to be mutually agreed by the parties."

Armitage left Washington for the Gulf region over the weekend. He was scheduled to travel to Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Middle East Newsline reported.

"If you were an Israeli, you might say here 'We're giving up these settlements and we're rewarding terrorists,'" Armitage told a briefing on April 15. "It depends on which side you fit. The fact of the matter is, as far as I know, this is the first time that we've had this kind of possibility that Israel will actually give up settlements and the Palestinians will take them over."

Officials said the Arab leaders were told that the United States would oppose Israeli unilateral annexation of any part of the West Bank. They said that Washington would help Israel withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and transfer Jewish settlements to the Palestinians over the next year.

"This withdrawal proposal by Prime Minister Sharon would be the first withdrawal of Israeli settlements ever, in areas that will become part of a future Palestinian state," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

"And it's important for the Palestinian people to seize this opportunity and work to move forward on political and economic reform. And we will be there to assist them."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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