Published January 13, 2015
A proposal for a Mideast cease-fire and statehood for the Palestinians on land held by Israel were among the subjects on Secretary of State Colin Powell's agenda for his Friday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
On his way to Jerusalem Thursday, Powell said the pace of the Israeli pullback from West Bank cities and villages would also be part of a "very long conversation" with Sharon. They spoke by telephone Thursday.
Meanwhile, Powell intends to make it clear to Yasser Arafat on Saturday that the Palestinian leader must renounce terrorism or face severed ties with the United States.
"The message is: This is it. Last chance," said a senior administration official, speaking only on condition of anonymity. The official cautioned that Powell and President Bush will not sign off on the message until Saturday's meeting draws closer.
As part of his peace mission, Powell will propose U.S. financial assistance to rehabilitate the West Bank from the damage caused by Israeli forces in their effort to defeat terrorists.
During a brief stop in the Jordanian capital of Amman, the secretary was asked at a news conference whether the limited Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank was an affront to Bush.
"I don't see it as an affront," he said. Still, Powell added, "I think the president has made his position clear: He wants the incursion stopped. He has noted some progress, but he wants to see more progress."
In what appeared to be a gesture ahead of Powell's arrival, Israeli forces withdrew from about two dozen small towns and villages on the West Bank. But troops entered the West Bank towns of Dahariyah and Bir Zeit and the Ein Beit Hilmeh refugee camp. Later, they pulled out of Bir Zeit after detaining about 300 people, mainly students in the university town.
In the Jenin refugee camp, scene of the deadliest fighting during the offensive, three dozen armed men, apparently the last holdouts, surrendered to Israeli troops.
Sharon acknowledged the fighting was causing the United States difficulties, but he refused to call a halt to the incursion.
Powell said King Abdullah II of Jordan had offered his country's help in easing the suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank once a cease-fire is in place.
Abdullah urged Powell to increase pressure on Sharon to withdraw his troops and to accept Arafat as "the legitimate leadership and elected president of the Palestinian people," according to a palace statement issued after the two-hour meeting with Powell.
The king also urged Powell to work toward a detailed peace plan, setting "specific time frames" for a Palestinian state as well as ending the violence and Israeli occupation.
Previewing the difficult talks ahead, Powell said, "I go committed to carry forward the president's vision." He said he would press not only for ending the bloodshed, but for "getting a political track started" that would lead to the creation of a secure Palestinian state.
It is important, Powell said, "to show the Palestinian people that there is hope out there, hope for them to have their own state, living side by side in peace with Israel."
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that while Israel was withdrawing some troops neither side had yet met conditions outlined by Bush to end hostilities.
"The president calls on all the parties to keep working to get them done," Fleischer said.
Earlier Thursday, Powell challenged the idea that strong Israeli military action on the West Bank could enhance security from terror. Mirroring an argument pressed by Arab leaders, Powell depicted the Palestinians as angry and frustrated.
"There will still be people who are willing to resort to violence and terror, people who are willing to use suicide bombs and other kinds of bombs," he said.
Asked whether he was on an impossible mission, Powell snapped: "I don't like wallowing with pessimists. It is necessary for me to go."
Moreover, he added, "I am proud to be going ... to get us on a positive track. It is what I should be doing. It is what secretaries of state do."
The White House, which had earlier declined to criticize Israel's pace of withdrawal, was a little more guarded Thursday. "Here is where we are: Israel has continued the withdrawal that began that the president called for, in some areas. There are additional incursions in other areas," Fleischer said.
Fleischer noted that Bush had urged Arafat to make public statements denouncing suicide bombing and to renounce violence as a political instrument.
Powell also met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to plan the talks Bush will hold in Russia beginning on May 23 with President Vladimir Putin.
They made some headway toward a formal declaration on promised reductions in long-range nuclear warheads to 1,700 to 2,200 over 10 years.
But Ivanov said the disposition of the warheads remained under discussions.
A senior U.S. official said Ivanov had volunteered Russia's help in trying to quiet Israel's border with Lebanon. Ivanov told Powell that Russia was telling the leaders of Syria, Iran and Lebanon to curb Hezbollah guerrillas whose cross-border attacks on Israel could expand the already volatile situation, the official said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.