Bush counsels restraint on Mideast in Chanukah
meeting with Jewish leaders.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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sraeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon may, have set a six-month
ultimatum for the Palestinians
— offering them partnership or
pullout — but President Bush is coun-
seling patience and adherence to exist-
ing peace initiatives.
Bush met with Jewish lay and com-
munal leaders at the White House on
Dec. 22 for the . annual Chanukah cele-
bration. Participants said the meeting
was warm and
friendly, with the
the president on
his recent foreign
capture of Iraqi
Libya's pledge to
end its weapons
of mass destruc-
Bush also initiated a discussion on
the resurgence in Europe of anti-
Semitism, saying it was America's role
to set an example in respecting the
rights of the individual.
A central topic of conversation was
Sharon's speech warning the
Palestinians that unless they crack
down on terrorist groups and return to
peace negotiations, Israel would pull
out unilaterally from parts of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip and set its own
border. That border would be less
favorable to the Palestinians than what
they could achieve through negotia-
tions, Sharon said.
A participant in the hour-long meet-
ing asked Bush if he thought Sharon's
threat was sincere. Bush nodded yes,
saying he understood Sharon's position.
He even referred to the prime minister
by his nickname. "Arik has a job like
mine: His job is to protect his people."
Bush added, however, that he wants
Israel to be patient and stick to the
U.S.-led road-map peace plan, which
envisions a Palestinian state and an end
to terrorism by some time in 2005.
"We need to be patient and wait for
a new Palestinian leader to emerge,"
Bush was quoted as saying, adding that
he has high expectations of Ahmed
Qurei, the new Palestinian Authority
Israelis are frustrated with Qurei
because he has been slow to distance
himself from P.A. President Yasser
Arafat, whom Israel and the United
States reject as untrustworthy.
Qurei's predecessor, Mahmoud
Abbas, attempted' to isolate Arafat, but
Arafat undermined Abbas and helped
• force his resignation.
Bush made clear that he wants Israel to
wait for Qurei, and also that he won't
venture too deeply into _the peace process
unless he's relatively sure of the outcome.
"You all need to be patient. Presidential
capital is not to be wasted," he said.
The administration has avoided specu-
lating on what might happen if Sharon
makes good on his threat, focusing
instead on Sharon's immediate promises
to ease conditions for the Palestinians.
State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher said the administra-
tion had noted the "specific steps"
Sharon had promised to take, but
added: "We avoided speculating on
some of the things he said might/could
be down the road."
Sharon said he prefers to follow the
road map, and White House officials
have said Bush was mollified by
Sharon's commitment. Bush also was
adamant that Sharon not use Israel's
West Bank security barrier, now under
construction, to set the borders of a
future Palestinian state.-
"I understand the need for the fence
— it's a security barrier — but part of
the route is problematic," Bush said.
Referring to Libya's surprise pledge to
cooperate with arms inspectors, Bush
said Israel needs to be patient if it
expects similar commitments from
Syria and Iran — implacable foes with
reported plans to obtain weapons of
The United States has imposed sanc-
tions against both countries, Bush said,
but nothing will happen until major
trading partners of those nations —
especially in Europe — join in.
"We need to bring the Europeans
around when it comes to Iran and