Europeans cool, Palestinians lash out at US `betrayal'


Sat, Apr 17, 2004 - Page 6

Palestinians on Thursday lashed out in anger and confusion at the Bush administration's move to legitimize Jewish settlements on occupied land, calling the seismic shift in US foreign policy a "catastrophe."

Arab and Palestinian leaders had barely 24 hours notice of the extent of US President George W. Bush's concessions to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, deepening the fury of their reaction.

Palestinian figures, such as Finance Minister Salam Fayed, who held three meetings in the last year with US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her aides, told staff he felt betrayed.

Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath was on the point of canceling his planned visit to Washington next week.

"Until two weeks ago, the Americans were telling us that it is not final. It may or may not happen," said Hassan Abdel Rahman, the PLO's representative in Washington.

"I was told by people that there were different views of this in the administration. Of course, as usual the supporters of Israel who want to protect Sharon and the rightwing government of Israel prevailed."

That response was echoed by the Arab League on Thursday which accused the US of reneging on its role of mediator.

"We expect the United States to play honest broker. We accused it before of being unbalanced. Now we can't even say that. The United States has adopted Israel's position," Arab League spokesman Hesham Youssef said.

French President Jacques Chirac said that Bush had set an "unfortunate and dangerous precedent," and flatly rejected any unilateral changes to the borders of Israeli and Palestinian territory.

"I have reservations about the unilateral, bilateral questioning of international law," Chirac said.

The EU's Brian Cowen adopted a similar stand.

"The European Union will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties," he said.

From Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Queria proposed that an emergency meeting of the Arab League and the other sponsors of Bush's erstwhile road map -- the EU, Russia and the UN -- be convened.

"This is a catastrophe that has to be dealt with," he said. "What is fixed is that we have rights and we will defend them."