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Powell Blames Arafat for Impasse in Israeli-Palestinian Peace Efforts - 2004-02-12

Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday put blame for the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts squarely on Yasser Arafat, who he said is aware of those who are committing anti-Israel acts of terror but has failed to move against them. In Senate testimony, Mr. Powell insisted U.S. peace efforts are intensive.

Mr. Powell says that unless Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia can wrest control of security forces from Mr. Arafat and move against terrorism, U.S.-led efforts to get progress on the international "road map" to Middle East peace will be frustrated.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Powell leveled some of his sharpest criticism to date of Mr. Arafat, who he said has failed to move in any "systematic or definitive" way against radical factions that he knows are behind suicide attacks against Israel.

"I put the blame squarely on Chairman Arafat for his unwillingness to speak out, use the moral authority as a leader that everybody says he has, not just to occasionally give a statement condemning this, not only to condemn this kind of activity, but take action against those organizations that he knows is committing those acts," he said. "And if he would show that kind of effort, that kind of commitment, then we could stand the occasional attack that takes place because we know that the Palestinians have become a partner in going after the perpetrators of these attacks."

Mr. Powell said he understood the frustration among Palestinians about Israeli policies, including settlements, detentions and the route of its controversial security barrier in the West Bank. But he said those problems cannot be allowed to "serve as an excuse" for suicide attacks or other acts of terror.

Under questioning from Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, Mr. Powell acknowledged that the United States' standing in the Muslim world has been hurt by a lack of progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But he insisted the administration is doing a great deal to try to advance peace efforts even though President Bush did not mention the subject in his State of the Union message last month.

"It is a matter of utmost urgency for us, because we fully understand that this conflict, between the Palestinians and Israelis, is the source of a great deal of the anti-American feelings that exist in that part of the world, and does affect what we're doing in Iraq," he said. "And I would do anything to find a magic bullet to solve this one. But the problem is the same problem that has been there for the three years that I have been working in this account. And that is terrorism, terrorism that still emanates from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other organizations that are not interested in peace, not interested in a state for the Palestinian people. They're interested in the destruction of Israel."

Mr. Powell said he would send another U.S. diplomatic team to the region "in the next week or so" to seek a better understanding of plans by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for, among other things, dismantling Israeli settlements and whether they might be useful in getting peace efforts moving.

He said the immediate goal of U.S. diplomacy is to help arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Mr. Qureia and said he hopes that can happen soon as a catalyst to get the sides "to engage more fully."