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Peres supports 'provisional' Palestinian state

Bush administration debates vision for the Middle East

Peres told Israeli Radio he supports declaring a 'provisional' Palestinan state.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Friday he endorses the idea of a "provisional" Palestinian state being considered by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Peres, in an interview with Israel Radio, said the idea of a provisional state was "more or less" the same as a proposal he had worked out with Palestinian Parliament Speaker Abu Ala.

In Washington, the White House confirmed that President Bush is considering calling for a "provisional" Palestinian state as part of a new statement on the Middle East, but he has not made a final decision.

A senior administration official said the idea of a state is attractive because it would "fundamentally change the nature of the conversation.

"You would have two sovereign states debating a border dispute, as opposed to one state openly questioning whether there is any right or reason for the other state to exist, or at least exist now under its present leadership," this official said.

Bush has said that a key to reaching a peace in the Middle East is giving the Palestinians a political process that they see can result in the fulfillment of their aspirations to have a state.

Spirited debate within the administration

But administration sources told CNN that a spirited debate continues within the administration over the details of the plan Bush should announce.

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After meeting last weekend with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Bush publicly rejected calls from the Arab states that he set a timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Jerusalem daily newspaper Ha'aretz, quoting unnamed Israeli government officials, said Bush had accepted a proposal from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with whom he met on Monday, to tie the creation of a Palestinian state to performance benchmarks rather than a timetable.

The newspaper quoted the same sources as saying that Bush rejected Sharon's assertion that Israel should determine if the Palestinian Authority had met those benchmarks, saying the United States would make those determinations.

Several sources, including senior U.S. government officials, told CNN that Bush was certain to call on the Palestinian Authority to continue reforms, such as drafting a new constitution, creating credible governmental institutions -- including finance and education ministries -- and moving quickly to implement security reforms.

Arafat hopes for new elections

Arafat attends weekly prayers at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday.  

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met with his new, slimmed-down Cabinet Thursday in Ramallah and said he hoped to call new elections for president and the Palestinian legislature in the coming days.

U.S. government sources said Bush was all but certain to say that for the Palestinians to have a reasonable chance to meet those tests, Israel must withdraw all troops at least to the lines of September 28 of last year, and begin to release Palestinian economic assets frozen during the latest intifada.

Peres indicated that the provisional state would be created on about 40 percent of the West Bank and two-thirds of Gaza.

Other sources said Sharon was pressed while in Washington to agree that Israel would resume honoring the map created under the Oslo accords. That map creates specific areas where the Palestinians have full security and administrative control as well as other areas the Palestinians have civil authority but the Israelis have security control.

The lines of control over areas of the West Bank and Gaza were essentially erased during the Israeli military campaign in the West Bank in April. Israeli troops continue to ring most major Palestinian cities and towns, moving into cities and refugee camps to make arrests that Israel says are aimed at heading off terrorist attacks.

Ha'aretz, quoting an unnamed senior Palestinian official, said if the Palestinians received guarantees that the final borders of their state would include virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, they would go along with a provisional state.

Earlier, Peres said he understood that the Bush administration was looking at proposals that would call for Israel to withdraw to its borders prior to the 1967 war and evacuate Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

In return the Palestinians would give up "the right of return," their demand that those Palestinians who fled or were evacuated from their homes in 1948 in what is now Israel be allowed to return to those lands.

In the past, Israel has opposed to returning to the pre-war borders. Israel has pushed for the Palestinians to give up the right of return, saying it would upset the balance of power in Israel.

Senior administration sources told CNN those issues are among the many options Bush is thinking of including in his vision for the Middle East.

As for when Bush will announce the new guidelines or principles, some officials believe it could come as early as next week, while others believe there are too many unresolved issues and it will take a little more time than that.

Bush discussed "generally" his vision for the Middle East Thursday in a 20-minute meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

Prince Saud came away from that meeting telling reporters he was "happy" with all he had heard. He meets Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report




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