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Furious palestinians reject bush pledges to israel

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Furious Palestinians Reject Bush Pledges to Israel
Wed Apr 14, 2004 04:39 PM ET

By Wafa Amr
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian leaders denounced President Bush's pledge to Israel on Wednesday that it could keep parts of the West Bank as a rejection of Palestinian rights that endangers the region's future.

"Bush is the first U.S. president to give legitimacy to Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. We reject this, we will not accept it," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie told reporters at his West Bank home. "Nobody in the world has the right to give up Palestinian rights," the moderate premier said in reaction to what appeared to be a historic policy shift -- Bush's implicit recognition of Israel's right to retain settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Bush referred to the sprawling suburban settlements as "new realities on the ground" that made it unrealistic for Israel to retreat to the borders of 1967, the year it captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Middle East war.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won the commitment from Bush as part of his plan to "disengage" from conflict with Palestinians by pulling settlers out of Gaza and cementing a hold on West Bank settlement blocs behind new security lines.

"Bush and Sharon are trying to protect each other's political future but endangering the political future of Israel, the Palestinians and the whole region," said Yasser Abed Rabbo of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee.

Qurie called on the Quartet that stands behind the "road map" peace plan -- the European Union, United Nations, United States and Russia -- to convene an international conference "to discuss the neglect of Palestinian rights."

More than 230,000 Jews have carved out sleek suburban enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza, kept secure by Israeli soldiers, checkpoints, fences and walls that restrict the movements of 3.6 million Palestinians.


Qurie called Bush's remarks a "severe blow. We will not deal with unilateral issues, we will only deal with international law and with the (U.S.-backed) road map (peace plan)."

Sharon has said his plan is 'unilateral', meaning that he will not negotiate with the Palestinians over its implementation. "This U.S. administration's policies, its bias toward occupation and rejection of international law will jeopardize U.S. interests in the region," said Jibril al-Rajoub, Arafat's security adviser.

"The Americans will as a result only reap hostility among the people of the Middle East. This U.S. administration is dealing with the world as if it's a Texas ranch."

Bush also appeared to deny Palestinian refugees any right of return to what is now Israel, saying they should be resettled in a future Palestinian state instead.

Khaled al-Batsh, a senior official in the militant Islamic Jihad, said Bush's statement and letter of assurances to Sharon was "a declaration of war" against the Palestinian people.

"The American position aims to blow up the Palestinian cause and take the situation back to square one," he said.

Bush and Sharon repeated commitments to revive the road map, which envisages a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. But Israel rules out negotiations until Palestinians end suicide bombings and other militant violence against Israelis.

Israel accuses Palestinian President Yasser Arafat of personally fomenting violence, a charge he denies, and both Israel and the Bush administration refuse contact with him.

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