Powell discusses possible statehood for Palestinians

Saturday, June 15, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed a possible interim Palestinian state and other peace ideas with Arab leaders Friday as U.S. officials cautiously welcomed a promise by the Palestinians' new security chief to curb attacks on Israelis.

With President Bush expected to outline his peace proposals soon, Powell had a "warm and useful" 40-minute meeting with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Powell's spokesman said, but neither side would provide details.

At a later meeting with Nabil Shaath, a top adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Powell "was listening," Shaath said. "And I understood that this was the opportunity for the Palestinians to communicate to the secretary all their visions, all their ideas, so that he can communicate that to the president."

Shaath said he told Powell that a deadline for political progress toward a state is needed because "without a timeline, procrastination can come in."

As for the idea of an interim Palestinian state, Shaath said the most important thing is for any state to include the lands Israel gained in the 1967 war. "That is a very important requirement," he said.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, smiling, told reporters: "The talk that you want to hear is not me talking, but what the message and the statement of the president is going to be. And I, like you, am waiting for that."

Bush's aides say he is considering a proposal for an interim, or provisional, state for Palestinians on the land that Palestinians now hold, which comprises roughly 40 percent of the West Bank and two-thirds of Gaza.

The Boston Globe, in a report for today's editions, quoted Palestinian officials as saying the U.S. plan would leave provisional Palestine's borders and capital unresolved, but it would have the right to conduct foreign relations, sign treaties and join the United Nations.

The plan also calls for a halt to new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and control over Jerusalem to be decided over three years, the Globe said. The Palestinian officials were not identified.

Border, capital questions

Hassan Abdel Rahman, the ranking Palestinian official in the United States, would not comment on the report Friday night but said the Palestinians wanted the borders and capital questions resolved.

"To leave the borders open, we don't feel this is something we can live with," Rahman said, adding it was essential the capital of a Palestinian state be East Jerusalem.

Powell floated the idea of a provisional state this week, saying it would provide the Palestinians with hope for the future and thus might help end violence. Bush's aides called Powell's statements premature.

"The president and his top advisers are going to continue to review what we've heard in the past weeks as part of these consultations, and then determine how to move forward with our strategy," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Friday.

U.S. officials said they are waiting to see if promises of a crackdown on terror by Arafat's new interior minister, who is in charge of maintaining security, would be matched by Palestinian action.

The Arafat appointee, Gen. Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, said Friday that he is determined to neutralize the militias attacking Israelis but was vague on how he would do it.

"Those are always encouraging words," Reeker said. "And we're watching, along with the Palestinian people, for real implementation and progress on that front."

Bush has demanded that Arafat streamline Palestinian security services to make them more effective in fighting terror. Yehiyeh will report directly to Arafat, who previously oversaw security services, and it is not clear how much authority he will have.

Israel's army chief of staff, at an appearance in Washington, warned U.S. officials that as long as Arafat is in charge, there will be no meaningful reform inside the Palestinian Authority.

"This effort he is leading is only for show," Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said of Arafat's recent moves to streamline his cabinet and his appointment of Yehiyeh, 75, as security chief.

Yehiyeh "is not going to control and fight terrorism" because he is too close to Arafat, Mofaz said.

The Saudis and other Arabs want the United States to press Israel to withdraw to the borders it held before the 1967 Six-Day War and give the land to Palestinians for a state, in exchange for peace with all Arabs.

The Saudi foreign minister said after meeting with Powell that U.S. and Arab officials share the same goals of providing the Palestinians with dignity and land of their own in exchange for security for Israel and normal relations with its neighbors.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Israel must retain at least some of the land it gained in 1967 to protect itself.

Touchy decisions

The creation of an interim or provisional Palestinian state is designed to delay the touchiest decisions on issues such as Palestinian-Israeli borders, control of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory and Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile, on Israel's troubled border with Lebanon, a build-up of armed Hezbollah fighters is under way in southern Lebanon.

The guerrillas' weapons were provided by Iran and channeled through Syria, which plays a dominant role in Lebanon, said the sources, who insisted on anonymity.

An Israeli diplomat said 9,000 missiles, rockets and artillery shells had been stockpiled in southern Lebanon and were capable of reaching targets in the northern quarter of Israel, as far south as Haifa and Hadera.

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