An elated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his plan to pull back from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, hailed by Bush, would create “a new and better reality for the state of Israel.”
But Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia — with whom the Bush administration deals while boycotting leader Yasser Arafat — called Bush “the first president who has legitimized the (Israeli) settlements in Palestinian territories.”
Bush’s statement on settlements “will be read by the Arab world as justification of Sharon’s sovereignty over major (settlement) blocs,” Edward S. Walker, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and to Egypt, said in an interview.
Previous U.S. administrations have described Jewish settlements as obstacles to peace. One of Bush’s predecessors, Jimmy Carter, went even further and called them illegal.
Sharon, in gaining Bush’s backing of his unilateral plan to withdraw all Jewish settlers and military installations from Gaza and from some areas of the West Bank, offered several concessions in a letter to Bush.