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Mediators to Wait Until After Israeli Elections to Release Mideast Peace Plan - 2002-12-18

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the international "quartet" seeking an Israeli-Palestinian settlement will not release its detailed "roadmap" for peace until after the Israeli elections next month. The "quartet," consisting of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, holds a key meeting in Washington Friday.

While European allies of the United States have pressed for the early release of the "roadmap," Mr. Powell says it will not be formally launched until after the Israeli elections in apparent deference to the wishes of the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. At a news conference following a U.S.-European Union dialogue, Mr. Powell stressed that the delay will not be long:

"Because of the Israeli election, to be frank, and because of the number of issues that are before the Israeli public right now, we think it would be wiser in this instance for us to continue work on a roadmap, and wait until after the Israeli election is over," he said. "It's just a matter of weeks until that is resolved, and then we will engage with all the parties in the region with respect to a roadmap, if we have complete agreement on the elements of the roadmap, at least within the quartet at that time."

Speaking for the EU, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller noted that the broad outlines of the "roadmap" calling for a two-state solution to the conflict by 2005, have already appeared in the media and are available on the internet for Israeli voters, among others.

"It is very important that Israel knows that it must end with two states. And it is very important that the Palestinians know that they will never get to two states if terrorism continues," he said. "Because then there will never be the climate in which you can negotiate the final settlement between the two states. There must be built some trust in the middle of all this distrust which is in the region. And that is what the roadmap tries: gradually to build up trust so that you can finally can make the final settlement between those."

Mr. Moeller said the need for trust is why the European Union, at its Copenhagen summit last week, called for an end to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza. He said as things now stand with the settlements, a Palestinian state would look, as he put it, like "Swiss cheese," and that a state that emerges from the "roadmap" will have to be viable.

According to a draft published last month by The New York Times, the emerging "roadmap" calls for confidence building measures by both sides in the coming months, including an Israeli settlement freeze and an end to all Palestinian acts of violence against Israelis.

A Palestinian state with transitional borders would be created by the end of 2003, with final, permanent status settlement of the conflict to be achieved two years later.

Mr. Powell said he and his "quartet" partners, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and EU chief diplomat Javier Solana, will try to come "as close as they can" to a complete the roadmap in their Friday discussions, which will include a joint meeting with President Bush at the White House.