AMMAN, Jordan – Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday urged Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) to "seize the opportunity" of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a first step toward statehood next year.
Powell also said time is running out on President Bush's pledge to create a Palestinian state in 2005. "I don't think anyone can predict" whether that timetable will be met, Powell said after a 40-minute meeting with Qureia.
Qureia said the Palestinian leadership wanted to see exactly what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) would propose.
"We are waiting to see what the plan is and to see the details of it," Qureia said following the meeting with Powell at the Jordanian capital's airport. Powell had just landed after an overnight flight from the United States.
Qureia said the talks were "very, very constructive." Appearing more upbeat than Powell on the prospects for statehood, Qureia said, "We have time to finish negotiations and to have a state by 2005."
In a diplomatic double-team, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, plans to meet with Qureia in Berlin on Monday.
Bush said recently that carrying out his vision of establishing a Palestinian state next year through negotiations with Israel "may be hard since 2005 is right around the corner."
"Nevertheless, I do think we ought to push hard as fast as possible to get a state in place," he said in an interview earlier this month with editors of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram.
Having proposed 2005 as the date two years ago, Bush said, "I readily concede the date has slipped some."
The president cited violence as a reason. "I think the timetable of 2005 isn't as realistic as it was two years ago," Bush said, according to a White House transcript of the interview.
Sharon's Likud Party (search) vetoed his withdrawal plan in a May 2 referendum. The prime minister says he is determined to find a different forum for approval for the initiative.
The plan would have meant the evacuation of soldiers and 7,500 settlers from the coastal strip, representing a turnaround for the Israeli leader who had championed settlement expansion.
The pullback was to be part of Sharon's plan of "unilateral disengagement" from the Palestinians, to reduce friction and draw a border in the West Bank.
A poll published Friday in Israel's Yediot Ahronot daily showed a sharp rise in support for Sharon's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
After the meeting, Powell headed to join Arab and other Palestinian officials at an economic conference at a Dead Sea resort.
Palestinians, with support from Arab and European governments, are pressing for a much bigger withdrawal than Sharon proposed, even though his plan would include some Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
But Powell said in an interview with Al Arabiya, an Arab television network, released on Friday before his departure, that he hoped "whatever disappointment existed is behind them, and they can now see the opportunities."
Sympathizing with Arab goals, Powell said the evacuation of settlements "is what we have been after for a long time."
Also Saturday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called on his people to "terrorize your enemy" as he bitterly marked the 56-year anniversary of Israel's establishment. But he also signaled that he is ready for peace.
In a speech broadcast live on Palestinian television, Arafat urged Palestinians to be steadfast in their struggle against Israeli occupation.
Bush has tried to generate Israeli support for the proposed withdrawal, saying during Sharon's visit to the White House last month that Israel should be able to retain some population centers on the West Bank in any accord with the Palestinians.
Bush agreed with Sharon there were "new realities" — some 225,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank — since Israel won the land from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.