WASHINGTON – House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt suggests President Bush delay his proposal for creation of a Palestinian state in the midst of "barbaric suicide attacks against Israelis."
"It is fine to set out the dream and the goal and to hope that will give people on the Palestinian side some hope," Gephardt said, as Bush worked on the proposal he is likely to announce on Monday.
"But it isn't going to change anything, in my view."
Instead, Gephardt said Thursday, "we ought to be sitting down with the Israelis, with the others in the region, and saying, 'What can we do to stop the terrorism, to bring an end to the violence,' and then 'How do we build a government on the other side?'"
Gephardt, D-Mo., said using American or other peacekeepers in the region is a possibility "we ought to be talking about," but he did not commit himself to the proposition.
In the West Bank on Thursday, suspected Palestinian infiltrators took over a house in a Jewish settlement near Nablus, killing four people and wounding four others. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility.
Other militant Palestinian groups set off bombs in Jerusalem on Tuesday and Wednesday, killing 26 Israelis.
Bush telephoned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday, before the attack on the West Bank, with a message of support. The White House demanded action by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to curb terror.
In the conversation with Sharon, "the president reiterated his determination to push for peace and to find a way to provide more security for Israel and hope for the Palestinian people," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Gephardt, long an ardent supporter of Israel, said he was pleased the Bush administration was more engaged in trying to bring the parties to peace and achieve stability in the Middle East.
"But we are now into daily terrorism," he said. "Cycles of violence have a tendency to spiral out of control and that is where you are today.
"Imagine being a citizen in Israel. You can't go to the store. You can't go to the mall. Your children can't go to school. You can't go to a restaurant. You can't go to work. You live in constant threat of instant death."
He said it was problematic to propose a Palestinian state "while barbaric suicide attacks on Israel continue now on a daily basis."
"When the parties are not even talking to one another and violence is occurring every day, it is hard to imagine moving expeditiously towards a peaceful two-state solution," he said.
There was no indication Bush was trying to temper Israel's response to the two deadly bombings in Jerusalem.
Arafat called Thursday for an end to attacks on Israel, but the statement was judged insufficient by the White House. "The president is still waiting for him to act," Fleischer said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Foreign Ministers Marwan Muasher of Jordan, Ahmed Maher of Egypt and Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia to urge them to improve prospects for Bush's pending statement on Palestinian statehood by doing what they could to deter terror attacks on Israel.
Once Bush announces his plan for Palestinian statehood on West Bank land already turned over by Israel, he is expected to send Powell to the region to try to rally support for the proposal.
Bush's long-anticipated speech is expected to propose a step-by-step establishment of a Palestinian state contingent on democratic reforms within the Palestinian Authority. Aides were making tentative plans for a Monday speech, cautioning that events in Israel could upset that timetable.
Key elements of Bush's proposal were still under discussion Thursday. Besides the timing of the speech, these included when the Palestinian state would be established, the extent of reform required first and the ultimate boundaries, U.S. officials said.
Based on acceptable progress on reform, Bush was considering statehood late this year or early next year.
A timeline for a final settlement between the Palestinians and Israel is likely to be included. The Palestinians have urged a deadline of one year of negotiations while Israel wants no deadline, officials said.