Secretary of State Colin Powell is calling for Palestinians to be ready to take over any territories Israel returns to them. His comments were echoed by Jordan's King Abdullah, who also stressed that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a fundamental issue for many Arabs.
Secretary Powell said he discussed Israeli plans to pull out of settlements in Gaza with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in Jordan on Saturday. Speaking on the ABC television program This Week, Secretary Powell said he thinks the Palestinians should welcome this move and prepare themselves for it.
"Now, this is the actual elimination of settlements, which people have been asking for for all these years," he said. "And what I need the Palestinians to do is get ready for that transfer, get ready to take responsibility for Gaza, and security responsibilities in Gaza and get ready to re-engage in the road map, so that we can get to those final status issues that are so important and which must be mutually agreed upon by the parties."
The road map is an internationally-developed Mideast peace plan that calls for the creation of two separate states.
Meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah said he believes the Bush administration genuinely supports the two-state solution. But he added that the United States has an image problem in the region.
"The perception is that the United States is not fair and balanced on the core issue in the Middle East, which is the Israeli-Palestinian problem," said King Abdullah. "And then you compound that with Iraq, so you get, unfortunately, the visuals with Israeli tanks and Palestinians and American tanks and Iraqis."
King Abdullah said he believes that for many Arabs in the region, Iraq is not as important an issue as resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But he added that he thinks the Palestinians are in a weak negotiating position because their government is not unified.
"There is a window, an opportunity for Palestinian government to get back on track," he said. "If Palestinian political society is too busy competing with each other, then they are going to lose the opportunity."
He stressed that resolution of this issue would also help in the global war against terrorism. "Solve this problem, we will take the bite out of extremism, we will shut the recruiters of terrorism down, we will have a hope for all of us to have a life in this part of the world," he said.
King Abdullah said Arab nations are ready to accept Israel as what he called "part of the neighborhood," as long as Israel offers a future to the Palestinians.