Beliefnet
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Now that the Bush administration has lined up with Arab and most European nations in calling for establishment of a Palestinian state, it soon will reveal what else it would like to see in a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

With uncommon swiftness, the administration shifted this past weekend from a relatively detached approach to peacemaking and an almost exclusive focus on trying to end the fighting to supporting a Palestinian state on land held by Israel and signaling Yasser Arafat that President Bush was ready to meet with him.

Bush's declaration at the United Nations on Saturday that there ought to be a Palestinian state alongside Israel, splitting the small piece of land they both claim, was ``a powerful signal,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell said. It is due to be followed in a couple of weeks by a Powell speech fleshing out the White House and State Department's vision of Israel and the Palestinians' future.

The choice of the United Nations gave the declaration by Bush special resonance. It is the premier world body, and a place where most nations of the world - but usually not the United States - have lined up for decades to denounce Israel for one thing or another.

The timing coincides with efforts by Bush and Powell to persuade Arab and Muslim nations to support the U.S. war against Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist militia that has shielded Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan.

Most of these countries have denounced the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, but have steered clear of actively engaging in the fighting. At the same time, they have urged the Bush administration to be more aggressive in pushing for a settlement based on Israeli territorial concessions.

``It's not a matter of placating or pleasing'' Arab and Muslim nations, Powell said Sunday at a news conference. ``It is a matter of going forward and getting the violence down.''

He also said ``the president will have an opportunity to meet with Chairman Arafat as we move forward.''

In his nine months in office, Bush has shunned the Palestinian leader. Only last week, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's assistant for national security, said the president had no plan to meet with Arafat. She said Arafat had not done enough to halt attacks on Israelis.

Powell has emphatically rejected bin Laden's recent claims that he supports the Palestinian cause. But several Arab governments have made the link between terrorism and Israel's hold on land the Palestinians claim for a state. Last month, Amre Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, said in a Washington speech that Palestinian frustration was the main cause of terrorism. Arafat was delighted with Bush's declaration. ``We have to thank him from our hearts,'' he said before meeting Sunday with Powell.

Initially, the Bush administration kept its distance from the stalled peace process, saying it was up to the parties to find their way back to negotiations. But that has changed, with Powell telling reporters, ``We are looking for opportunities to be more actively engaged.''

Until Bush's speech on Saturday, U.S. officials had referred to the possibility of a ``Palestinian state,'' but had never called it ``Palestine.'' Powell said Bush's use of ``Palestine'' was deliberate.

``If one is moving forward with a vision of two states side by side,'' Powell said on NBC's ``Meet the Press,'' ``it's appropriate ... to call those two states what they will be, Israel and Palestine.

``No Republican president has ever made (such) a statement,'' Powell said. No Democrat, either, including President Clinton, who proposed the Palestinians take over all of the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem. But he shied away from specifying a Palestinian state would result - although that clearly was the intended outcome.

Arafat held out for more, and the Clinton proposal failed.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus