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Palestinian Official Urges Blair to Persuade US to Reverse Stance on Israeli Settlements - 2004-04-15

The Palestinian foreign minister says British Prime Minister Tony Blair should use his meeting with President Bush on Friday to persuade the U.S. leader to reverse his acceptance of some Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials are expressing what one calls "great disappointment" with the new Bush administration policy regarding Israel's West Bank settlements.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath is appealing to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to change President Bush's mind on the issue when they meet in Washington Friday. Mr. Shaath explained his views on British radio.

"I would very much like to see Mr. Blair continue to explain to the Bush administration the folly of going into this present situation, and the dangers that it contains not only for the Israelis and the Palestinians but for the Middle East in general," he said.

President Bush on Wednesday endorsed a plan by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw entirely from the Gaza Strip and from some parts of the West Bank, though at least five large Jewish settlements would remain there. The Palestinians want a complete Israeli pullout from the West Bank.

Before the Shaath appeal, Prime Minister Blair had already issued a statement welcoming the Israeli announcement.

Mr. Blair said the Sharon move gives the international community an opportunity to revive what is called the "road map" to Middle East peace.

A Blair supporter in parliament, Mike Gapes of the Labor Party's "Friends of Israel" lobby group, says he believes the prime minister understands Israel's motives.

"Progress towards the road map has been blocked, and if you've got a blockage in the road, you either remove it or you bypass it and then get back on the road," he said. "And I think we see this unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank as step towards a comprehensive agreement."

British political observers say Mr. Blair's endorsement of the Sharon plan appears to put him at odds with the pro-Palestinian wing of his Labor Party, including Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who has been a leading advocate of the Palestinian cause.