Secretary of State Colin Powell - speaking two days before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's White House visit - has called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to renounce violence once and for all. The Secretary is also urging Israel to ease its blockade of the Palestinian territories.
Mr. Powell, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continued the administration's tough line toward Mr. Arafat for what is seen here as his insufficient efforts to curb acts of anti-Israeli terrorism being staged from Palestinian areas.
But he also said Israel needs to act to alleviate the hardships of the Palestinian population and said the administration is committed to a Middle East peace process that will lead to two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side with internationally recognized borders.
Mr. Powell spoke against a background of intensifying U.S. Middle East diplomacy that included a State Department meeting Monday between the secretary and a senior envoy of Mr. Arafat, the Palestinian legislative speaker Ahmed Qureia.
The Secretary told senators that despite the violence of recent weeks, the United States has too many vital interests at stake to end its mediation role in the Middle East, and he said the administration has been "unequivocal" that Mr. Arafat confront the extremists in his ranks.
"The Palestinian people will never see their aspirations achieved through violence. Chairman Arafat must act decisively to confront the sources of terror and choose, once-and-for-all, the option of peace over violence. And he cannot have it both ways. He cannot engage with us and others in the pursuit of peace, and at the same time permit, or tolerate, continued violence and terror," he said.
Mr. Powell said Palestinian arms smuggling attempts like the one involving Iran and Hezbollah guerrillas uncovered last month are "absolutely unacceptable" and said Chairman Arafat must insure that no further activities of this kind take place again.
At the same time, he said Israel's Prime Minister Sharon should act on his expressed desire to improve the situation for Palestinian civilians, who the secretary said are confronting a "disastrous" economic situation and daily suffering.
We have urged the Israeli government to act in ways that help ease these hardships and avoid further escalation or complicate efforts to reduce violence. Difficult as the present circumstances are, the United States will remain engaged. But in the end, Israel and the Palestinians must make the hard decisions necessary to resume progress toward peace," Mr. Powell said.
Prime Minister Sharon is due at the White House Thursday for his fourth meeting with the President since Mr. Bush took office last year. Mr. Bush has had telephone conversations - but no face-to-face meeting - with Mr. Arafat.