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Bush calls for Arafat replacement

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Bush lays out ideas for Palestinian state — but only after reforms

June 24 — President Bush outlines his Middle East peace plan, which consists of a separate Palestinian state.

NBC NEWS AND NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON, June 24 — In a long-awaited policy speech on the Middle East, President Bush called on Palestinians to replace the Palestinian leadership, although he did not point to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by name. Bush promised extensive help from the United States and the international community in setting up a Palestinian state and its institutions if the people chose to reform the government, end terrorism and elect accountable leaders.

IN THE SPEECH, which was postponed from last week because of the wave of suicide attacks in Israel, Bush said he expected that Israel would “respond†as the Palestinians reached for these goals, but he clearly placed the onus on the Palestinians to change first.

“Today, the elected Palestinian legislature has no authority, and power is concentrated in the hands of a few,†Bush said.

“True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions,†he said, vowing that the United States, the World Bank and the international community would help Palestinians organize and monitor elections, which should be held by the end of the year. There also must be a constitution, Bush said as he set stiff conditions for a Palestinian state. He also promised help setting up an independent judiciary and legislature.

Bush accused the current leadership of supporting terrorism. The president made it clear that Arafat had time and again disappointed him by failing to crush terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.If the plan is followed, Bush said, a Palestinian state would be possible within three years.The president took no questions from reporters after the speech.

CONDITIONS FOR ISRAEL

Bush also had demands for Israel, calling on the government to halt settlements in occupied lands, unfreeze Palestinian assets and withdraw to the positions it was in before Sept. 28, 2000, when the current wave of fighting started.

Ultimately, he said, Israel should agree to pull all the way back to the lines it held before the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli forces now control six of the eight main Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank: Jenin, Nablus, Qalqiliya, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Bethlehem. Jericho, which has been quiet during most of the 21 months of fighting, and Hebron, where the Israeli army maintains a permanent presence in part of the city, have not been taken over.

REACTIONS MIXED

Israeli Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the government was pleased with Bush’s call, saying Bush had expressed a “vision of bringing the Palestinian people to democracy and reform, and then to negotiate.†Rivlin said that according to Bush’s formula, the first steps were up to the Palestinians: to reform their administration and “get rid of all those terrorists who live there.â€

At the same time, Rivlin rejected the concept of a provisional Palestinian state.

Arafat welcomed some of the ideas in Bush’s speech as a “serious effort to push the peace process forward,†The Associated Press reported shortly after the speech.

But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, rejected Bush’s call to replace Arafat.

“President Arafat was elected by the Palestinian people in a direct election ... and President Bush must respect the choice of the Palestinian people,†he told the AP.

Erekat told MSNBC that Bush had “mentioned all the right ingredients†for Israel’s pullback, but he said negotiations should resume where they left off two years ago.

TANKS SURROUND HEADQUARTERS

At least 600,000 Palestinians in the West Bank are confined to their homes by army curfews, although restrictions were briefly lifted in Nablus and Qalqiliya so residents could shop and go to school.

A major six-week military offensive earlier this year aimed at wiping out militias behind terror attacks also focused on the West Bank, leaving the Gaza Strip — where top militia leaders are based — largely unscathed. This time, however, Sharon warned that Israel was “preparing massive activity against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.â€

Monday, Israeli tanks encircled Arafat’s badly damaged headquarters and barricaded the front gate with debris as the army seized control of Ramallah.

In the southern Gaza Strip, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at two cars, killing six Palestinians and injuring five others, Palestinians said.

Four of the dead belonged to the militant group Hamas, the movement said.

NBC’s David Gregory, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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“Today, the elected Palestinian legislature has no authority, and power is concentrated in the hands of a few,” Bush said.

“True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions,” he said

I agree w/ Bushy here. It's hard to tell who is in charge, and something new has got to happen on the Palestinian side. Yasser is getting old and senile... time for a change.

But that should only happen while at the same time Israle shows some restraint. It would be a sign of maturity if they can attempt to hold off occupations while the Palestinians get their act together.

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