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."