Bush: Palestinians need new leaders
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States would support creation of an independent Palestinian state if the Palestinian people "elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror," President Bush said Monday.
"For the sake of all humanity, things must change in the Middle East," Bush said.
"It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation," Bush said in a 16-minute speech from the Rose Garden outlining his new blueprint for peace in the region. "The current situation offers no prospect that life will improve."
While not mentioning Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat by name, Bush made it clear he believes the current Palestinian leadership is too compromised by association with terrorist groups to lead a program of reform.
"Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism," he said. "The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure." (Read speech transcript)
Bush said the key to resolving the current quagmire in the region is for the Palestinians to build "a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty," with new leaders, a new constitution, economic and judicial reform and an "externally supervised effort" to overhaul its security apparatus to battle terrorism.
Once that happens, Bush said, the nearly 35-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza can end, with creation of a new state with "provisional" borders.
Final borders and the location of the new state's capital would be part of negotiations for a final settlement, which Bush said should be completed within three years.
Bush called for multi-party elections for local officials in Palestinian areas this year, with national elections to follow at an unspecified date.
In the meantime, Bush called on Israel to pull its forces from Palestinian-controlled areas, stop building any new settlements in the West Bank or Gaza, restore freedom of movement for Palestinians and allow their economy to develop.
Bush said the United States, the European Union and Arab states were willing to help the Palestinians improve their political and economic systems.
But he insisted the Palestinians needed a new constitution that took power away from "an unaccountable few" and gave it to a freely elected Palestinian legislature.
"The Palestinian parliament should have the full authority of a legislative body. Local officials and government ministers need authority of their own and the independence to govern effectively," said Bush.
Economic reforms that would create accountability would bring aid from the international donor community, the president promised.
Anger on both sides
He said the issues of Jerusalem and the plight of Palestinian refugees would have to be negotiated later by Israel and the Palestinians.
He told Israelis their best chance to end terrorist attacks and achieve peace is to support "the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state" and that continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza "threatens Israel's identity and democracy."
"I can understand the deep anger and anguish of the Israeli people. You've lived too long with fear and funerals, having to avoid markets and public transportation and forced to put armed guards in kindergarten classrooms," he said. (Read more on Victims of Terror)
"The Palestinian Authority has rejected your offered hand and trafficked with terrorists. You have a right to a normal life. You have a right to security. And I deeply believe that you need a reformed, responsible Palestinian partner to achieve that security."
Just as he directly addressed Israelis, Bush also addressed the Palestinian people, saying he could understand their "deep anger and despair."
"For decades, you've been treated as pawns in the Middle East conflict. Your interests have been held hostage to a comprehensive peace agreement that never seems to come, as your lives get worse year by year," Bush said.
"You deserve democracy and the rule of law. You deserve an open society and a thriving economy. You deserve a life of hope for your children."
Expectations of other leaders
Bush also said Arab states must help with the process, and he called on them to take concrete steps to end support for Palestinian militants.
He said any leader who was committed to peace would:
Bush also called on Syria to "choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations."
Bush's long-awaited speech on Middle East policy was put off last week after three terrorist attacks in Israel killed more than 30 people.
He spoke in the Rose Garden flanked by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Bush said he has asked Powell to "work intensively with Middle Eastern and international leaders to realize the vision of a Palestinian state, focusing them on a comprehensive plan to support Palestinian reform and institution building."
In an interview with CNN after the speech, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat rejected Bush's call for new leadership, saying Arafat was chosen in "free and fair elections" and that Palestinian leaders don't "come from parachutes from Washington or from anywhere else."
"The Palestinian people have chosen President Arafat as their leader, and the world and President Bush must respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people," Erakat said.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who held extensive negotiations with Arafat in the late 1990s trying to reach a comprehensive Mideast agreement, called Bush's remarks "a really good speech."
"Israel will be ready to negotiate once we see a responsible Palestinian leadership," he said.
Barak said the challenge now will be for Powell to get Europe, Russia and the United Nations to agree on the same policy "without a single crack."
"If a single crack will appear, Arafat will enter into it and crack the whole system," Barak said.
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