July 30, 2003
Jerusalem, Israel (ICEJ) -- It was all smiles at the White House Tuesday as US President George W. Bush toned down expected criticism of Israel's seam-line security fence and repeated his call for the Palestinian Authority to â€œdismantleâ€ the terrorist infrastructure, angering the PA leadership and Islamic terror groups.
"The Palestinian Authority must undertake sustained, targeted and effective operations to confront those engaged in terror, and to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure," Bush told journalists after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in which he reaffirmed America's commitment "to the security of Israel as a Jewish state."
Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza accused the US and Israel of trying to spark a Palestinian civil war and warned Wednesday that Sharonâ€™s insistence that he will keep building the fence may cause it to â€œreassessâ€ the temporary truce on terror attacks against Israelis.
"I also urged the Prime Minister to carefully consider all the consequences of Israel's actions as we move forward on the road to peace," Bush said after telling Sharon that ongoing construction posed â€œa problem,â€ to the â€˜roadmapâ€™ peace plan.
Palestinian leaders, however, were unsettled by Bushâ€™s tone. "I had hoped that Mr. Bush would stand there next to Sharon and tell him stop it, stop building the wall," PA lawmaker Saeb Erekat told The Associated Press.
Palestinian disappointment was compounded by Bushâ€™s use of the term â€œfenceâ€ alongside Sharon, indicating a clear shift in sympathy of the Israeli position only days after calling it a â€œwallâ€ â€“ as preferred by the Palestinians - in talks with PA premier, Mahmoud Abbas.
"The most effective way to fight terror is dismantle terrorist organizations" and that if that happened "in the long-term a fence would be irrelevant," Bush said, turning previous US opposition to the project on its head, and putting the spotlight back on Abbasâ€™ failure to honor Palestinian commitments under the roadmap plan to disarm the terror groups.
Sharon reportedly echoed Bushâ€™s words in private, telling the President that if there is â€œpeace and quietâ€ and the threat of ongoing terrorism removed, the fence too could be pulled down.
"I explained the importance of the fence as a factor that will lead to security, and security will enable us to reach peace. I said that we will continue to build the fence and that I am certainly ready to weigh ways to build it that will minimize difficulties for the Palestinians," Sharon told journalists, before stressing that Israelis were "thankful for every hour of increased quiet and less terrorism and every drop of blood that is spared."
But he indicated Israel's concerns that terrorist attacks could resume at any moment, perhaps even before a three-month moratorium on attacks expires.
"We are concerned that this welcome quiet will be shattered any minute as a result of the continued existence of terror organizations which the Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to eliminate or dismantle," he said, before promising to take more steps to make the lives of Palestinians easier as urged on him by Bush, as soon as the PA starts the terror crackdown.
Despite ongoing US concerns about settlement outposts, prisoner releases and a range of Israeli concessions to strengthen Abbasâ€™ leadership, Sharonâ€™s aides stressed that these remained â€œdisagreements between friends,â€ clearly pleased with the success of Sharonâ€™s eighth White House trip to meet Bush.
â€œAmerica is firmly committed to the security of Israel as a Jewish state, and we are firmly committed to the safety of the Israeli people. As we head down the road to peace, my commitment to the security of Israel is unshakable, as is the enduring friendship of our countries,â€ Bush insisted, aware of the need to re-assure a skeptical Congress that he hasnâ€™t gone soft on Palestinian terror.
Back in Gaza, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi said Bush's remarks showed that Abbas had failed to win US acceptance of the Palestinian position in his trip to Washington. "The Bush statement reflects the total bias of the United States in favor of the Zionist enemy," Rantisi told the AP, "and it reflects also the failure of Prime Minister Abbas' visit."