From CNN, :
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush endorsed an Israeli plan Wednesday to pull back from Gaza and part of the West Bank, but denied the United States was taking sides in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At a White House news briefing following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Bush said “realities on the ground” dictated that Israel should be able to keep some settlements in any future peace agreement.
Bush praised Sharon for his withdrawal proposal.
“These are historic and courageous actions,” Bush said. “If all parties choose to embrace this moment, they can open the door to progress and put an end to one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.”
Bush also embraced Sharon’s position that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to a new Palestinian state but not to Israel.
Sharon’s government proposes a “disengagement” plan that includes a provision for Israel to pull out all Jewish settlements and troops from Gaza and all but six blocs of Jewish settlements from the West Bank.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said that allowing some Israeli settlements to remain in the West Bank would be “a severe blow to the peace process.”
“I don’t think that Israelis should be rewarded [for] illegal practices of stealing Palestinian land,” Erakat said in Ramallah, West Bank.
Bush did not directly address Israel’s assertions that it would keep the six settlement blocs.
But he did say: “As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”
Erakat said Bush could not judge issues of permanent status.
“This will be a major deviation to the road map and international law, and just add to the complexities and constitute a severe blow to the peace process,” he said.
The “road map” — backed by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — lays out steps Israel and the Palestinians must take toward ending conflict and establishing an independent Palestine by 2005.
Erakat said that in October 1991 Bush’s father sent his secretary of state, James Baker, to the Middle East with a letter of assurance saying settlements were illegal.
The Palestinian negotiator said the current President Bush has no right to change U.N. Resolutions 242 or 338 or the road map.
“But I want to make clear, if Israel wants peace, they know the address. It is Palestinian elected leadership — we who will make peace. We who, with Israelis, work to break this vicious cycle of violence,” Erakat said.
“If Israel wants peace, they know the address”? So I suppose all those murders of Israeli civilians has had nothing to do with disruptions of the peace process?