Powell Supposed to Visit West Bank, Israel in Coming Weeks
July 7, 2008
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - With Yasser Arafat out of the picture, Secretary of State Colin Powell may come to the Middle East to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials, a U.S. official said on Monday. It's not clear if Powell's resignation, which he announced to his staff on Monday, would interfere with Powell's Mideast travel plans.
PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said that Powell would come to Ramallah and maybe Gaza to meet with the Palestinian leadership on November 23. But those reports could not be confirmed.
Powell is expected to travel to the region in two weeks for an international conference on Iraq, said a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
It is not yet clear if he will come to Israel and the West Bank. "It's being considered,"
the spokesman said.
Powell was meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Washington on Monday.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the meeting between Powell and Shalom is significant because it's the first high-level meeting of U.S. and Israeli officials since the passing of Arafat.
"We both viewed Arafat similarly -- negatively, and not as a partner," Regev said.
Now Israel and the U.S. will be looking at how they can take steps to allow a different, more positive Palestinian leadership to emerge, he said.
Emphasizing that Israel would not interfere in the Palestinians' leadership choice, he also said that if the Palestinians "make the right choices" then Israel would support them.
While Arafat's leadership was characterized by corruption, Israel is looking for a new leadership that is more transparent, Regev said.
Where Arafat was extreme, Israel is looking for a more moderate leadership to emerge; and where Arafat promoted terrorism, Israel would like the next Palestinian leader to adopt a hard-line policy of "no tolerance of terrorism," he added.
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the Middle East peace process during their meeting last week.
Bush said that responsibility for peace would rest on the Palestinians' "desire to build a democracy and Israel's willingness to help them build a democracy."
He also said the U.S. was looking forward to working with a Palestinian leadership that is "committed to fighting terror and committed to the cause of democratic reform." He reiterated his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state but stopped short of setting a date for it to happen.
The road map called for the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of next year.
Acting PA president Rauhi Fattouh announced Sunday January 9, 2005 as the date for Palestinian general elections.
The elections will be only the second ever for Palestinians. The first were held nine years ago in January 1996 and confirmed Arafat as president of the PA.
Israel and the international community are hoping that the elections will usher in a new era of Palestinian leadership that will be more disposed to making peace with Israel, although some analysts are doubtful that will happen.
Just hours after the election announcement was made, PLO Executive Committee Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and former security minister Mohammed Dahlan narrowly escaped a shooting incident in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Mazen's bodyguard and a member of the Palestinian security service were killed in the incident, which happened while Abu Mazen and Dahlan were visiting a mourning tent for Yasser Arafat in Gaza City on Sunday evening.
The gunmen reportedly shouted slogans against Abbas and Dahlan when they entered the tent but both men denied that the shooting incident, which lasted for more than five minutes, had been an assassination attempt on their lives.
"There was no assassination attempt," Dahlan said. "There were thousands of people there, some of whom were armed and among whom there is tension, and shots were fired that were not directed at anyone in particular."
He said the shots were a "sign of the chaos and anger" in the PA that needed "urgent action."
Abbas, who due to meet with the heads of the main Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fatah, is favored to replace Arafat as head of the PA.
Considered by many to be a moderate, Abbas was Arafat's PLO deputy for years. He resigned as the first PA prime minister after only a few months over differences with Arafat.
But some Israelis are still skeptical about his moderation. In a study in the 1980s, Abbas wrote that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was less than a million and that Zionists (the Jewish national movement for a homeland) had been in cahoots with the Nazis to destroy their own people to promote their cause.
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