WASHINGTON – President Bush showed guarded interest Thursday in an unofficial peace plan for the Middle East but held firm to his own approach that calls for a democratic Palestinian state and the end of terror attacks against Israel.
"We appreciate people discussing peace," Bush said. "We just want to make sure people understand that the principles of peace are clear."
The president's remarks were directed at the unofficial plan produced by a Palestinian official and an ex-Israeli justice minister that has drawn support from former President Carter and a number of other international figures.
The architects, Yasser Abed Rabbo (search), a veteran Palestinian negotiator who is on the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, and former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin (search) are in the capital lobbying for support.
They are due to meet on Friday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who endorsed their effort publicly last month. Elliott Abrams, who deals with Middle East issues at the National Security Council, is expected to participate.
On the eve of the session, which would lend at least a measure of credibility to the plan, the House majority leader, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, called for its rejection.
"Entertaining freelance peace plans — like the Geneva plan — that morally equate terrorism and self-defense is not only counterproductive to the peace process but dangerous in its validation of terrorists and terrorism," DeLay said.
Bush, responding to reporters' questions in the Oval Office, dealt carefully with the plan that has been condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search). Rabbo said Wednesday it has the support of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"Everyone knows where I stand," Bush began. He said peace begins with having a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles and with leaders "committed to defeating and dismantling the terrorist organizations."
As for Israel, the president said, it must help the Palestinian state emerge. "And that's why we are continuing to talk to them about the illegal settlements and outposts" that Israel has built in the West Bank, and about a security barrier being constructed partially within the West Bank in an effort to keep out attackers, the president said.
Powell, at a news conference with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium, said the administration was strongly committed to the U.S.-backed road map produced jointly by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
"The road map captures the vision that President Bush laid out" in a speech in June 2002, Powell said.
"But that is not to say there are not other ideas out there that people have," Powell said.
Like Bush, the secretary of state said the Palestinians must bring attacks against Israel to an end.
In the White House, sitting alongside Bush before they met privately, King Abdullah (search) of Jordan praised the president, saying he "has always been out front in trying to move the process forward."
"We are all working very hard behind the scenes to encourage the Palestinian prime minister (Ahmed Qureia) to be able to have the dialogue with the Israelis," the king said.
Rabbo and Beilin are promoting their plan as one that supplements, not replaces, the U.S.-backed road map by dealing with all key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For instance, Israel would have to yield all of Gaza and most of the West Bank for a new Palestinian state. A cluster of Jewish settlements near Israel's border would remain under Israeli sovereignty. All others would be dismantled.
In exchange for Israel keeping some settlements, the Palestinians would obtain two pieces of territory within Israel, and thereby expand Gaza by about 25 percent.
The Palestinian state would have its capital in Jerusalem, sharing sovereignty with Israelis in the city both sides claim as their capital. An undetermined number of Palestinians who say they or their families were driven out by Israel when the state was formed 55 years ago, would have a right to take up residence in Israel. Some others would go to the new Palestinian state or to the expanded Gaza area.