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Arafat Rejects Israeli Gaza Pullout Plan - 2004-04-15

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, reacting Thursday to the outcome of President Bush's summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said his people will never give up their struggle for an independent homeland, with Jerusalem as its capital. In Israeli circles, the summit is being seen largely as a victory for Mr. Sharon, who wants to get Israel out of the Gaza Strip, but he still faces angry opposition at home to the plan.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials alike debated the results of the Bush-Sharon summit. The main assessment from the Palestinian side is that Mr. Bush has shown favoritism toward Israel by legitimizing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership also said that Mr. Bush has come out against the right of Palestinian refugees to return to areas that are now part of Israel.

In what many saw as a defiant response to the summit, Mr. Arafat said the Palestinians would never abandon the claims of their refugees, nor make more territorial concessions.

He added that in the long run Palestinians will win their right to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, and it will be the Israelis who have to retreat.

"All the suffering of the Palestinian people, the power, the aggression and the Israeli assassinations and the siege, and the collective punishment - all of this is going to push us to stand firm and unify against the Israeli occupiers and force them and their settlers to leave our land forever," he said.

There is also some anger on the Israeli side following the summit. Jewish settlers are stepping up their own campaign to try to stop Mr. Sharon from removing them from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

At the same time, Mr. Bush's endorsement of the plan has won Mr. Sharon more supporters, among them the Israeli immigration minister, Tzipi Livni.

"This is something that I think was essential for Israel," she said. "It was important for me that President Bush would make this kind of statement."

Ms. Livni is a member of Mr. Sharon's ruling Likud party, which is set to hold a referendum in early May on the prime minister's plan for disengagement from the Palestinian areas. Mr. Sharon needs to win the referendum to help get the approval of his cabinet and the parliament for his plan.