Israelis, Palestinians react to Bush speech
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- President Bush's call for a Palestinian state with a "new and different" leadership drew favorable reviews from Israeli and Palestinian officials, though a top adviser to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat said it is not up to Bush to decide who leads the Palestinians.
"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," said Saeb Erakat, the Palestinian chief negotiator.
Erakat said Arafat was chosen in "free and fair elections" and that Palestinian leaders don't "come from parachutes from Washington or from anywhere else."
But Arafat himself appeared more receptive, issuing a statement expressing "his welcome to the ideas that were presented today" and saying they were "serious contributions to move the peace process forward. "
"The Palestinian leadership and President Arafat hope that the necessary details to assure the success of these ideas will be discussed in the direct and bilateral meetings with the American administration and with consultation with Committee of Four and Arab brothers," the statement said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office issued a statement saying that "Israel is a country that wants peace."
"The prime minister has said several times that when there would be a complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement, and the Palestinian Authority undergoes true reform and will be headed by a new leadership so that a different authority will be created, it will be possible to discuss advancing on the political level," the statement said.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who held extensive negotiations with Arafat in the late 1990s trying to reach a comprehensive Mideast agreement 1990s, 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 U.S. Secretary of State Colin 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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