WASHINGTON – President Bush's senior advisers are struggling to decide on terms for a Palestinian state even as sustained violence in the Middle East casts a long shadow over U.S. peacemaking hopes.
Bush plans to remain at the White House over the weekend to keep working on a long-anticipated announcement on how he would like to see the Palestinians launched on the road to statehood.
Even within the administration, however, sentiment is growing not to announce a plan amid a series of deadly attacks on Israel. The impact might well be diminished, and the timing could appear unfeeling, one official said.
The main unresolved issue is how much democratic change to be required of the Palestinian Authority before starting up a state, another U.S. official told The Associated Press.
Bush remains committed to a provisional Palestinian state he hopes would develop into a full-fledged state to live side-by-side at peace with Israel.
There is little precedent for an interim state, however, and Bush's advisers were uncertain whether it could join the United Nations, have a currency or exercise other powers normally associated with statehood, the official said.
Bush met on Friday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior aides without reaching consensus on a wide range of issues, two U.S. officials said. They said the issues to be resolved were marginal, and the president's plan was not open to serious alteration.
"There are still discussions going on," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. He offered no prediction when unsettled issues might be resolved. Nor did the other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, although one said he would not rule out an announcement on Monday.
"This is an evolving process," Boucher said, "but the president has indeed reached some conclusions."
In Orlando, Fla., Bush was blunt about his timing. "If you're talking about the speech," he told reporters, "I'll give the speech when I'm ready to give the speech."
Among the issues up in the air are when to establish the preliminary state and whether to set a time limit for the negotiations Bush hopes to start between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinians want the talks held to a year. Israel wants no deadline.
Bush had planned to announce his statehood proposal this week, but terror attacks on Israel sidetracked him.
"I strongly condemn the series of attacks," the president said Friday while touring a senior center in Orlando. "I fully recognize that Israel's got the right to defend herself, and all parties who are interested in getting on the path to peace must do everything they can to reject this terror. It is outrageous, and it's got to be stopped."
Even before the attacks, some of Bush's top advisers questioned whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was up to the job of countering terrorism.
Under U.S. pressure to curb attacks on Israeli civilians, Arafat appealed this week for Palestinian activists to end the violence.
Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said Arafat must start confronting Palestinian militants who have carried out the attacks as well as talk to them.
"The president and his advisers continue to meet to discuss various elements of the way forward," Boucher said. "The president will decide when he wants to speak and what he wants to say at the appropriate time."
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt suggested Thursday that Bush delay his proposal for proclamation of a Palestinian state because of continuing "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. "But it isn't going to change anything, in my view."