WASHINGTON (UPI) — President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met Tuesday to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process, but for all their agreement on the necessity of safeguarding Israel’s security and improving the life of Palestinians little was resolved over Tel Aviv’s determination to build a security fence through West Bank territory.
The fence is a serious threat to the Palestinians’ participation in Washington’s “road map” to peace.
Now under construction by Israeli military forces, the fence is to be about 87 miles in length. Israeli reports say its construction would immediately affect some 12,000 Palestinians in 15 villages and eventually result in 100,000 Palestinians living in a zone between the fence and a line abutting Israeli territory.
“This vision (of a peace) cannot be realized if Israel continues to grab Palestinian land,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said at the White House last week.
“If the settlement activities in Palestinian land and construction of the so-called separation wall on confiscated Palestinian land continue, we might soon find ourselves at a situation where the foundation of peace, a free Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel is a factual impossibility. …
“The wall must come down,” he said.
Bush called the building of the wall “a problem,” and said he would discuss it with Sharon. After Tuesday’s meeting it was clear it remained a problem unresolved, at least for the time being.
Sharon said Israel was concerned the current period of relative peace could prove temporary as long as the Palestinian Authority fails to disarm and dismantle anti-Israeli militant organizations that have proclaimed a three-month cease-fire on attacks on Israel.
Israel appreciates Bush’s concerns over the wall and unauthorized Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands, he said, but the wall was still necessary to keep terrorists out of Israel.
He conceded, however, “every effort to minimize the infringement on the daily life of the Palestinian population” would be made.
“I wish to move forward with a political process with our Palestinian neighbors, and the right way to do that is only after a complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement, full dismantlement of terror organizations and completion of the reform process of the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
“If calm prevails and we witness the dismantlement of terror organizations, Israel will be able to take additional steps” to accommodate the Palestinians.
Israel recently announced it would release a number of Palestinian prisoners. It was also allowing increased transit of Palestinian goods through Israel, releasing Palestinian tax revenue and was continuing to pull down illegal Jewish settlement outposts.
Bush Tuesday made it clear his continued “unshakable” support for Israel’s security needs but also his total commitment to the peace process.
“Look, the fence is a sensitive issue. I understand, and the prime minister has made it very clear to me,” Bush said.
“My promise to him is we’ll continue to discuss in the dialogue how best to make sure that the fence sends the right signal; that not only is security important, but the ability for the Palestinians to live a normal life is important as well.”
Bush said the important message of his meetings with Sharon and Abbas is that “those who want to destroy the peace process through terrorist activities must be dealt with. There will be no peace if terrorism flourishes.”
Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.