Israel happy with Powell's visit

The Jerusalem Post

June 21, 2003

Secretary of State Colin Powell pored over detailed territorial maps with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority in separate meetings Friday, praising the Israelis for efforts toward an eventual peace settlement and urging the Palestinians to act quickly.

In return, he was assured the Palestinians would move quickly to take over from Israeli forces responsibility for security on the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a news conference after his meeting with Powell that Israel would "exhaust every avenue" in the search for peace. He cautioned, however, that fulfillment of the US-backed "road map" was contingent on the Palestinians' curbing terrorism.

"The Palestinian Authority must fight terror organizations, it must disarm them, it must make sure that their infrastructure no longer exists," Sharon said.

Powell said he was encouraged by the steps Israel has taken in recent weeks, including release of some Palestinian prisoners and dismantling of structures in the occupied territories that settlers built without government authorization.
Powell's praise for the Israelis contrasted with his subsequent admonition to Palestinian leaders.

"When I meet with Prime Minister Abbas this afternoon, I will urge him to move quickly, very quickly, to implement security reforms and to come forward with specific plans to take responsibility for security in Gaza and Bethlehem," Powell said.

On Gaza, at least, Powell received assurances he was seeking from Mahmoud Abbas.

"The Palestinians told us they want to move on Gaza," a senior State Department official said, commenting after Powell and Abbas had an afternoon meeting in this West Bank town a 30-minute drive from Jerusalem.

With an assist from US special envoy John Wolf, Israel and the Palestinians have been discussing the withdrawal of Israeli forces and their replacement by Palestinians. Israel is unlikely to agree to any such plan until the safety of Israeli settlers in the area is assured.
Israeli roadblocks and travel restrictions have paralyzed life in Gaza and the West Bank over the last 32 months of violence.

Abbas, who reaffirmed his commitment to the road map, called attention to its promise of an independent Palestine within two years.
He complained at a news conference about the murder of Palestinians and of continued Israeli settlement activities. Another sore point is establishment by the Israelis of fences that "separate the Palestinian citizens from their own land," Abbas said.

He seemed less impressed than Powell with Israel's dismantling of unauthorized outposts, which he said was a trivial exercise.
Abbas urged Israel to release Palestinian detainees, lift restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and end provocative acts.

Powell exhorted both sides to live up to commitments they made to President Bush at the road map peace summit in Aqaba, Jordan, two weeks ago. In his separate meetings with the two sides, Powell pored over detailed maps of the territories and urged quick action by both lest they lose momentum generated at Aqaba.

Powell's visit in Jericho coincided with yet another terrorist outburst. An Israeli-American motorist driving through the West Bank with his wife and parents was shot and killed. A Web site linked to Hamas, a militant Palestinian faction, claimed responsibility.

Powell scheduled his visit to the region to attend a weekend international economic forum at the Jordanian Dead Sea resort town of South Shuneh. He took advantage of his presence in the area to give the Israelis and the Palestinians a pep talk, cautioning reporters in advance not to expect breakthroughs.

In South Shuneh, he boarded a helicopter manned by a Jordanian crew shortly after 8 a.m. and took a 15-minute ride to Jerusalem, getting a spectacular view of the city's myriad religious sites and other landmarks en route.

Powell seemed upbeat about developments in the region over the past week compared with the disastrous period that immediately following the Aqaba summit. Then, in a dizzying pattern of strikes and counterstrikes, 36 Palestinians and 24 Israelis were killed during seven bloody days.

Despite the endorsement of the road map by both Sharon and Abbas, wariness remains the watchword, with grim recollections of the sad denouement of the Oslo peace accords three years ago after initial jubilation.