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Palestinian Leaders React Strongly to Bush Implication Israel Retain Some Settlements - 2004-04-14


The Palestinian leadership reacted strongly to statements by President Bush implying Israel has the right to retain some Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Senior Palestinian officials are also angry about what they see as Mr. Bush's denial of the long-standing claim for Palestinian refugees to return to areas that are now part of Israel.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Mr. Bush is the first U.S. president to ever legitimize Jewish settlements by saying that Israel does not have to give back all the land it seized during the 1967 Middle East war.

Mr. Qureia was reacting to the outcome of Wednesday's summit at the White House between Mr. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The two leaders discussed Mr. Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank.

While agreeing to dismantle some settlements in the West Bank, Mr. Sharon said Israel would retain at least five major settlement blocs in the territory.

Mr. Qureia said that the Palestinian leadership finds unacceptable that Mr. Bush has now effectively backed this move. His opposition is being echoed by other members of the Palestinian parliament.

Palestinian lawmaker Ziad Abu Zayyad told VOA that Mr. Bush's statements could set back the dream of Palestinian statehood.

"He [Mr. Bush] is legitimizing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank," he said. "And legitimizing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank undermines any effort or any possibility to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank."

Mr. Zayyad added that Mr. Bush has no right to give away territory that does not belong to the United States and is being claimed by the Palestinians. He said the president must leave such key issues, including the future status of Palestinian refugees, to be decided in peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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