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5/19/04 - POWELL ON MIDEAST OPPORTUNITY - 2004-05-19

Despite the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. remains strongly committed to the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Secretary of State Colin Powell made this clear in a meeting in Jordan with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. Mr. Powell pointed to the opportunity presented by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposal to remove all settlements from Gaza and some settlements from the West Bank:

“Now, this is the actual elimination of settlements, which people have been asking for for all these years. And what I need the Palestinians to do is get ready for that transfer, get ready to take responsibility for Gaza, and security responsibilities in Gaza, and get ready to re-engage in the road map, so that we can get to those final status issues that are so important and which must be mutually agreed upon between the parties.”

One barrier to peace is the continuing refusal of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, to allow the consolidation of Palestinian security forces to fight terrorism. Even worse, Mr. Arafat marked the fifty-sixth anniversary of Israeli independence a few days ago by inciting terrorism himself. In a twisted reference to the Muslim holy book, the Koran, he called on Palestinians to “strike terror in your enemy.” Mr. Arafat also made the absurd claim that the United Nations had no right to allow the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Secretary of State Powell said the actions and statements by Yasser Arafat “make it exceptionally difficult to move forward.” “We need an end to terror,” said Mr. Powell. “We need an end of any concept that somehow killing innocent people through suicide attacks is a legitimate political act. It is not, and it has to stop. We need reform within the Palestinian community.”

At the same time, Mr. Powell criticized Israel for demolishing many Palestinian houses in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Israeli military forces say the demolitions are necessary as a security measure because Palestinian terrorists have used the houses to stage attacks on Israelis. “We know that Israel has a right to self-defense,” said Mr. Powell, “but the kind of actions they are taking in Rafah. . .we oppose.”

It is time, says Secretary of State Powell, for both Israelis and Palestinians to seize the opportunity and work for peace.