Israel reoccupies as bombings lead Bush to delay peace plan

21 June 2002

Israeli forces moved back into several West Bank towns on 19 June following two Palestinian suicide attacks in Jerusalem that left 26 Israelis dead. The latest flare-up came as US President Bush was preparing to make a Middle East policy statement, thought to include provisions for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Bush statement had been expected to be made on 20 June, but US officials say it has been decided to delay the announcement for a few days.

Following the first Palestinian attack, which killed 19 Israelis on a bus in south Jerusalem on 18 June, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said: 'Israel will respond to every act of terror by seizing Palestinian Authority [PA] territory, which will be held by Israel as long as the terror continues. Additional acts of terror will lead to the seizure of additional territory.'

Labour members of Sharon's coalition government have sought to emphasise that the new policy does not amount to permanent reoccupation. 'We are opposed to any permanent presence or to recapturing Palestinian land,' said Defence Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on 20 June. However, Israeli analysts have expressed concern that the presence of Israeli forces in PA-controlled towns could end up in effect as reoccupation.

The US administration has said that the flare-up of violence has not affected the substance of Bush's proposals. '[Bush] knows what he wants to say,' said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on 19 June. The proposals, drawn up in consultation with Arab and Israeli leaders, are said to entail the declaration of a Palestinian state at a regional peace conference to be held in September. Issues still to be clarified include the borders of the proposed state. The US is said to be considering provisional borders, while Arab states and the PA are pushing for the state's borders to be fixed on the basis of the pre-June 1967 lines. PA Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said in Washington, during a mid-June visit to discuss the plans, that the Palestinians insist on the borders being specified, even if the Palestinians might not be able to occupy all of the state's territory immediately. This position has been backed by Jordan, Syria and Egypt. President Mubarak of Egypt visited Damascus and Amman on 19 June to co-ordinate policy with President Asad and King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia is playing an important role behind the scenes in helping the PA to draw up the constitution for the proposed new state.

PA leader Yasser Arafat was scheduled on 20 June to broadcast a statement calling on Palestinians to reject suicide bombing. Prominent Palestinian figures, including Hanan Ashrawi and Sari Nusseibeh, have also started a campaign to build up popular opposition to the attacks on Israeli civilians. Opinion polls taken in recent months have shown a majority of Palestinians supporting such attacks.

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