Bush Links Unrest in Territories with Slowdown in Peace Process

A statement issued late Tuesday by President Bush appeared to blame the current spate of rioting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Israel’s inability at this time to accept American proposals on the Middle East peace process.

That drew a sharp reaction Wednesday from the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, which said that linking this week’s unrest to the peace process “is liable to be seen by certain groups as a reason to continue the violence in the hope of attaining their ends.”

In his statement, Bush called on both the Israeli security forces and the Palestinians engaged in rioting to “act with the maximum restraint.”

But he added that such restraint will not help calm tensions unless Israel can form a government capable of moving ahead on the peace process.

“Based on experience, we believe that violence in the Middle East will continue and possibly grow, so long as there is an absence of a promising peace process that nourishes hope among Israelis and Palestinians,” Bush said.

The president said the United States has been trying to implement the May 1989 Israeli peace initiative, because it “offers the best path to a negotiating process that would protect Israel’s security, further the legitimate political rights of Palestinians and bring about a broader reconciliation between the State of Israel and its Arab neighbors.

“We look forward to the quick emergence of an Israeli government that is capable of making decisions on issues of peace and is committed, just as we are, to moving ahead on the peace process,” he said.

‘ACT OF ONE CRAZED INDIVIDUAL’

But in Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry maintained that the “major obstacle to the advancement of the peace process” is “the refusal of the Arab states to accept Israel, recognize its right to exist and enter into direct negotiations with Israel.”

It also said Israel is “determined to continue its efforts to advance the peace process, based on Israel’s peace initiative.”

The current wave of violence was triggered by the killing Sunday of seven Palestinians by a lone Israeli gunman who had been dishonorably discharged from the army and was said to be mentally unstable.

The president’s statement began by expressing his sympathies to the families of the Palestinians killed Sunday by a dishonorably discharged Israeli soldier said to have gone berserk.

Bush also expressed condolences to the families of those who “lost their lives amidst the subsequent violence.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry statement pointed out that “Israelis in all walks of life have condemned outright the cold-blooded murder.” It said the Israeli prime minister was “aware of the pain and grief among the Palestinian Arabs” and that he, too, had conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families.

But the statement also stressed that there is “no connection between the act of one crazed individual and the peace process.”

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