Bush Recognizes Settlements,
Says No To Right Of Return
Challenges Palestinians To Match Sharon's 'Boldness And Courage'

By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

President George W. Bush said on Wednesday Israel had a claim on some West Bank areas, and that "new realities on the ground" would have to be taken into consideration during final status negotiations.
Bush was speaking at a press conference following a two-hour meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House.
Bush said Palestinian refugees should be settled in a Palestinian state and not in Israel, adding that he was committed to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state.
"In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949," Bush said during a news conference with Sharon.
An elated Sharon said his disengagement plan would create "a new and better reality for the state of Israel" and emphasized it would improve the country's security and economy.
Sharon, who smiled ebulliently during the exchange with reporters, said he was encouraged by Bush's support for his plan, which the Israeli leader had sought as a way to boost his own party's support.
The statement and letters Bush and Sharon exchanged could go a long way toward helping the Israeli leader push his plan to scrap 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank through a binding vote in his right-wing Likud party on May 2.
"These are historic and courageous actions," Bush said about the Gaza withdrawal. "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."
Both the Palestinians and Israelis have responsibilities to undertake in the search for peace, Bush said. Today, Israel "stepped up to those responsibilities," he said, and Palestinians must do the same.
The U.S. president said working together could help build democratic Palestinian institutions, and said that Sharon's plan, which he termed as 'courageous,' could lead to a peaceful, democratic, viable Palestinian state.
He also said it is up to responsible Palestinian, Europeans and Americans to play a role in developing such a state.
Regarding the separation barrier being constructed by Israel in the West Bank, Bush said it should be security barrier and should be temporary rather than permanent.
When asked by a reporter if America policy in the Middle East favors Israel, Bush responded by saying the U.S. was "tilted" towards peace. He also challenged the Palestinians to match Sharon's boldness and courage.
Answering questions from a reporter, Sharon said he is not looking for ammunition against his friends in the government and in the Likud Party.
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