Palestinian state not subject to Likud whims
Egypt-Palestine, Politics, 5/14/2002
Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher dismissed yesterday a vote by Israel's ruling Likud party rejecting the creation of a future Palestinian state, saying it was up to Palestinians to decide, not the Israeli right wing.
"This is not the Likud's business but only the business of the Palestinian people," Maher told reporters.
The Likud vote, at a heated party convention in Tel Aviv late on Sunday, was a victory for right-wing former Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a looming battle for the party's leadership. Maher dismissed the vote as "idle Israeli election talk".
"We were not expecting the Likud to issue a decision nor were we waiting or wanting any decision from it to support or reject the creation of the Palestinian state," he said.
Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Cairo-based Arab League, said the vote was "not useful or productive" and added that Israel could not enter peace talks with Arabs based on that position.
Meanwhile, the White House said yesterday US President George W. Bush would keep pushing for the creation of a Palestinian state despite the vote. "The president continues to believe that the best route to peace is through the creation of the state of Palestine and side by side security with Israel," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters as Bush flew to Chicago.
"Beyond that, I don't comment on internal domestic politics. Every nation has its share of internal domestic politics."
In a related development, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat toured West Bank cities for the first time in five months yesterday and reassured Palestinians they would win their own state, brushing aside the vow from Israel's ruling party. The Palestinian president visited Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, site of a five-week Israeli siege, Jenin ? scene of devastation during a recent Israeli offensive ? and Nablus seeking to reaffirm his leadership of the Palestinians.
"To Jerusalem we are headed. Jerusalem is the capital of our independent state, regardless of who agrees or who does not," a defiant Arafat told a crowd in Nablus in the northern West Bank.
An Arafat aide cited security reasons for scrapping plans to visit the Jenin camp, where thousands of people gathered to await him on the rubble left by Israeli bombardments during a major offensive across the West Bank last month.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels he regretted the Likud decision. "Everybody has recognised that the only way to peace is through the creation of a Palestinian state. It is a pity that internal politics can make this process more difficult," Solana said.
In Gaza, armed resistance groups said the time was not ripe for them to cease bombing attacks against Israel despite calls for restraint from Arafat and leaders of Arab states.
Meanwhile, the European Union put off a decision yesterday on which countries would take in 13 Palestinian fighters allowed by Israel to go into exile following a siege of a Bethlehem church. European Commission President Romano Prodi said the EU was not trying to shirk its political responsibility for the men, but said it needed more time to work out their precise legal status once they are taken in by various member states.
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