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Some US Lawmakers Criticize Mideast Peace Plan - 2003-04-30

Some members of Congress are disappointed with President Bush's decision to move ahead with its roadmap for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

These congressional critics say the timing of the administration's initiative to move Israelis and Palestinians forward under a new peace roadmap could not be worse.

They say President Bush made clear last year that U.S. support for a new phase of negotiations must be preceded by a change in Palestinian leadership, and a cessation of violence.

Cong. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) says the latest suicide attack in Israel shows the Palestinian authority still cannot control violence. Despite the election of Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, as Prime Minister, he adds, Yasser Arafat continues to wield influence.

"While it is true that Abu Mazen has had the opportunity to appoint up to six ministers of his own, there are twelve to fourteen other ministers who owe their livelihood to Yasser Arafat," he said. "While it is true that Abu Mazen controls the preventive security organizations, the other military organizations under Fatah, like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, are still under the control of Arafat."

Militant Palestinian groups Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed joint responsibility for the suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv. Hamas issued a statement rejecting the Mideast peace roadmap.

At a Capitol Hill news conference, some House of Representatives members seized on the terror attack in Israel to criticize the timing of the president's effort to move the Mideast process forward.

"The Palestinians continue to be controlled by the most radical and terrorist elements among them," said Cong. Shelley Berkley, (D-Nevada). "I ask and I call for the president to take a step back. Let us not move forward, not only with poor timing, but with poor American policy. Let us not to back to equating the victims with the perpetrators."

These lawmakers also criticized the White House on grounds it is relying on support from the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia which is still facing sharp criticism from lawmakers because of their opposition to the U.S. led military action Iraq. "The European Union also needs to recognize that their direct aid to the Palestinian Authority goes to the promotion of terrorism, and the murder of innocent Israelis," said Cong. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.). "The European Union needs to re-think its policies of direct aid and realize it is only prolonging [the effort to achieve] a real and lasting peace in the region."

Some lawmakers say the president may have been "over-anxious" to take advantage of perceived window of opportunity presented by the quick U.S. military success in Iraq. But critics say the need to end Palestinian terrorist attacks should take precedence over any impatience.

"The families in Tel Aviv that are burying their children today, I'm not sure they see much momentum," said Cong. Weiner. "I'm not sure that any high school kid who happened to go to a discotheque last night, feels that there was much momentum from peace."

There was no immediate White House reaction to congressional critics. However, President Bush late Wednesday described the new Palestinian prime minister as someone who has "spoken clearly" about the need to fight terror.