U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday called on Israel to begin relaxing its latest military crackdown in the West Bank to help support the goal of Palestinian reform. He spoke as senior officials of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations completed a one-day meeting in London on ways to support the reform process.
There has been little critical comment from Washington on Israel's latest operations in the West Bank, with the Bush administration citing Israel's right to defend itself from terrorism. But in a CNN interview late Tuesday, Secretary Powell said it will be difficult for Palestinians to undertake the reforms being urged upon them unless there is "some relief in the degree of containment" by Israeli forces.
The secretary said he hopes that Israel will soon conclude that security conditions have begun to improve and they "can release their hold" in some areas. He said if there is going to be a transformation in Palestinian society, people will have to be able to assemble, move about, and "be able to bring in new leaders who can actually work" and he said the United States raised this with Israeli officials.
A spokeswoman here, meanwhile, said there was broad agreement in the meeting of the so-called Middle East "quartet" in London on the importance of Palestinian reform even though the other members have differed with the implicit U.S. call for the ouster of Yasser Arafat. She said they discussed setting up a steering committee to coordinate aid to the Palestinians in ways that promote democratic change.