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Furious Palestinians reject Bush pledges to Israel
Updated: 2004-04-15 09:18

Palestinian leaders denounced US President George W Bush's pledge to Israel on Wednesday that it could keep part of the West Bank as a rejection of Palestinian rights endangering the region's future.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie talks to reporters in his office in Abu Dis April 14, 2004. 'Bush is the first US president to give legitimacy to Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. We reject this, we will not accept it,' Qurie said. [Reuters]

"Bush is the first US 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 unilateral 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.

US President George W Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon walk away after a joint news conference at the White House, April 14, 2004. Sharon is looking for support from Bush for retaining several settlements from the Palestinians in the West Bank territory, particularly near Jerusalem. [Reuters]
The militant Islamist faction Hamas said Bush had hardened his "hostile position" toward the Palestinians, and vowed that "resistance" -- its term for suicide bombings and ambushes -- would go on until Israel pulled out of all occupied land. Khaled al-Batsh of Hamas' militant ally Islamic Jihad said Bush had made a "declaration of war" on Palestinians aimed at "blowing up our cause and taking it back to square one."

"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.


The moderate 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 road map." "This US administration's policies, its bias toward occupation and rejection of international law will jeopardize U.S. interests in the region," said Jibril al-Rajoub, security adviser to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

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

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 Palestinian authorities put a stop to militant violence.

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.

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