Palestinian PM Urges Leaders to Halt Security Fence

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) on Sunday urged the international community to pressure Israel to halt construction of its West Bank separation barrier, saying time is running out on chances for a negotiated peace settlement.

Qureia toured a section of the barrier in Qalqiliya (search), a Palestinian town near the line with Israel that has been largely enclosed by the structure.

"This is the racist separation wall that intends to turn the areas of the West Bank into isolated cantons that are not acceptable to any form of Palestinian government or any form of Palestinian state," Qureia said.

Meanwhile, violence continued in the West Bank.

A Palestinian man was killed when a bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely, Israel radio reported. The Israeli military said the bomber apparently had been en route to Israel.

Also, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in a confrontation with the Israeli army in a West Bank village. Palestinian witnesses said soldiers fired at Palestinian stone throwers, while the military said the teenager was about to throw a firebomb when he was shot.

Israel says it needs the 450-mile separation barrier as protection from suicide bombers and other Palestinian attackers.

The Palestinians say the barrier, which dips deep into the West Bank, is a massive land grab that will prevent them from establishing a future independent state. About one-quarter of the barrier has been built.

"We turn our direction to the United States, to President Bush, to Europe, to Russia, to the United Nations," Qureia said during his tour of the barrier. "Does this leave an opportunity for the creation of a Palestinian state?"

Israel and the Palestinians have committed themselves to the "road map" backed by the United States, United Nations, Russia and European Union, but the peace plan has been stalled for months.

"Where is the road map?" Qureia asked later in a speech to Qalqiliya's community leaders. "Will it be that under the shadow of the road map this racist separation wall will continue to be built?"

The road map, which seeks an independent Palestinian state by 2005, calls for the Palestinians to disarm militant groups and requires Israel to freeze settlement in the West Bank and Gaza.

Neither side has fulfilled these obligations, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) has said he will take unilateral steps to separate Israel from the Palestinians if there is no progress in peace talks in the coming months.

Sharon has said the steps would include dismantling some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, but said the Palestinians would receive much more territory in a negotiated deal.

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot said Sunday that Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, the incoming director of Sharon's National Security Council, has already asked a number government ministries to begin preparations for the separation plan.

The Palestinians have sent mixed messages in recent days about how they might respond to Sharon's plan.

On Saturday, Palestinian leaders reasserted their right to unilaterally declare an independent state in the absence of a peace deal with Israel.

But Qureia said last week that if Sharon carries out his go-it-alone plan, the Palestinians would give up their dream of an independent state alongside Israel and instead seek a single state of Arabs and Jews. Qureia said at the time he was expressing his personal view, not official policy.

Qureia tried to clarify his statements on Sunday, saying the single-state solution is one of several "options."

"Now we have the two-state option, and we accepted it," he told reporters. "But convince me the two-state solution still stands and is still viable and that the independent Palestinian state is a serious project" for Israel and the road map sponsors, he said.

A single, binational state would spell disaster for Israel's Jewish character, because the Palestinians' higher birthrate would soon put Arabs in the majority.

Israel would face a choice between giving Palestinians the right to vote or becoming a minority-ruled country like apartheid South Africa.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Sunday that the Palestinians still remain committed to a two-state solution, based on Israel's borders before it captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

"If the Israeli government continues with the settlement activities, walling us, building walls around our towns, villages and refugee camps, turning them into big prisons ... these actions will undermine and destroy the two-state solution, leaving the option of the one state available," Erekat told Israel Army Radio.

Meanwhile, supporters of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza were preparing for a large demonstration Sunday night against any territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Israeli media said tens of thousands of people were expected.