Global Policy Forum

Palestinian Officials Discuss Peace Needs


By Ron Kampeas

Associated Press
July 17, 2003

President Bush's commitment to Mideast peace must include a willingness to invest much-needed cash and to intervene when the going gets rough, according to a senior Palestinian cabinet minister visiting Washington. Planning Minister Nabil Qassis was meeting Thursday with Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who is the senior State Department official responsible for nurturing Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Qassis' visit comes just over a week ahead of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' arrival in Washington on July 25 to meet President Bush and discuss the "road map" to end 33 months of violence and establish a Palestinian state by 2005. Qassis and two Cabinet colleagues -- Labor Minister Ghassan Al-Khatib and Culture Minister Ziad Abu Amr -- met this week with some of the Palestinians' toughest critics in Congress, including the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, Rep. Tom Lantos of California.

The planning minister said greater engagement with the United States was a priority, especially ahead of a request for aid from donor nations he said could reach $1 billion. The United States is pinning its hopes for the success of the road map on Abbas and his reformist government, but for that to happen, Qassis said, Palestinians need to see results. That means assistance in rebuilding an economy wracked by years of violence and a willingness by Israel to make concessions.

A crucial element, Qassis said, is how committed the United States would be to monitoring implementation. "Monitoring is not just looking, but putting in benchmarks ... intervening, if necessary," he said. "We believe that this is what is needed to meet targets and keep the process alive." Qassis didn't elaborate on what intervention he thinks might be necessary, but said he was worried that Israel would roll back on its commitment to reduce its military presence in the West Bank, to stop the practice of detention without charges and to end settlement activity in disputed areas.

Israel for its part wants the Palestinian Authority to show greater toughness in dealing with militant Islamists, responsible for some of the worst terror attacks on Israeli civilians. Abbas has negotiated a temporary cease-fire with the Islamists, but Israel's reception has been lukewarm at best. Qassis said it was the best way out. "Some don't believe we are dealing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad without blood in the street," Qassis said. "We see an opportunity to consolidate a lasting cease-fire."

Qassis said Palestinians welcomed the Bush administration's recent high-profile attention to the road map, including Bush's visit to the region last month and visits by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell. "These are all important signs we see of serious engagement," Qassis told reporters.

The Abbas visit is a display of independence by the prime minister from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom the United States considers persona non grata. Qassis was in Washington under the aegis of the Palestinian Business Committee for Peace and Reform, an outspoken critic of the autocracy that once characterized Arafat's rule.

Qassis nonetheless distanced himself from some of the "unkind words" about Arafat he heard some U.S. officials express. "He is the elected president," he said. "The reforms couldn't have happened if the president opposed them." Abbas and Arafat have wrangled over sharing power. The United States hopes Abbas will moderate some Palestinian stances and steer the Palestinians away from Arafat's militancy.



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