WASHINGTON – "Palestine" is not a dirty word in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday, another sign of the U.S. commitment to an eventual Palestinian state.
President Bush solidified Washington's support for the idea of a sovereign Palestine when he used the word in his speech to the United Nations.
The United States is "working toward the day when two states — Israel and Palestine — live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions," he told the U.N. General Assembly.
Until now, U.S. officials have referred to the possibility of a "Palestinian state," but have never called it "Palestine."
"That was music, that was outstanding," Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Ahmed Aboul Gheit said after the speech.
Powell said Bush's use of "Palestine" in his speech Saturday was deliberate and reflected administration policy
"If one is moving forward with a vision of two states side by side," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press, "it's appropriate ... to call those two states what they will be, Israel and Palestine."
Bush's use of the word was an historic moment, Powell said.
"No Republican president has ever made [such] a statement," he said.
No Democrat, either.
President Clinton carefully parsed his historic speech in 1998 to Palestinian legislators.
"For the first time in the history of the Palestinian movement, the Palestinian people and their elected representatives now have a chance to determine their own destiny on their own land," Clinton said.
Until now, the State Department has used "Palestine" only to describe the British-controlled territory that existed before Israel's establishment in 1948. Israel assumed some of the territory; the other parts were controlled by Jordan and Egypt until they were captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
Although Israel has accepted the existence of a Palestinian state as an outcome of peace talks, calling it "Palestine" has been a sensitive issue. It has raised concerns that it would imply a Palestinian presumption to all the pre-1948 territory, including Israel.
"The only objection we would have to the use of the term 'Palestine' would be where it is meant as an alternative to Israel, in order to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state," Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said.
Bush wants to bolster Arab and Muslim support for the U.S.-led war against suspected terrorists and their protectors in Afghanistan. His statement was warmly welcomed by Arab delegates for referring to "recognized" borders, and for suggesting that Security Council resolutions implied statehood.
Sharon has suggested an interim recognition of Palestinian statehood without recognized borders. Israel understands U.N. resolutions as calling for an exchange of territory for peace, but not necessarily leading to statehood.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, the administration's approach to the yearlong Israeli-Palestinian violence was notable for its lack of involvement. Bush said he thought the Clinton administration had been too involved in the region, disappointing some Arabs who had hoped Bush would balance what they perceived as Clinton's pro-Israel tilt.
The shift since Sept. 11 has unnerved Israelis, and Sharon last month wondered whether the United States was sacrificing Israel's security interests to build a coalition against terror.
But the Palestinians are by no means the teacher's new pet.
Administration officials stressed that they were still keeping a tough line with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. And Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said Bush still would not meet with Arafat, although both were in New York. She said the administration was frustrated with Arafat's failure to arrest terrorists.
"It's been the U.S. policy for some time that we need to see action from Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, that there are certain responsibilities that come with leadership," Rice said on ABC's This Week. "Until there is a real effort at the cessation of terrorism, it's going to be very hard to get the peace process going."
The Associated Press contributed to this report