International reaction to President George Bush’s speech on the Middle East has been one of cautious approval. The Palestinians and Israelis have been more unambiguous.
"For the sake of all humanity, things must change in the Middle East" - President Bush outlining a blueprint for a Palestinian state
American President George Bush more or less wrote off Yasser Arafat as part of any future Middle East peace accord in his delayed speech on the Middle East.
Although he did not name Arafat, Bush said, "peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders not compromised by terror".
Palestinians not happy with Bush speech
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Predictably, his speech angered several Palestinian leaders, though support came from unexpected quarters, namely, Palestinian leader Arafat himself. He described Bush’s speech as "a serious effort to push the peace process forward".
Other Palestinian leaders were outraged. Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said that calls for a new leadership were "unacceptable".
"Palestinian leaders don’t come from parachutes from Washington or from anywhere else. Palestinian leaders are elected directly by the Palestinian people. President Yasser Arafat was directly elected in a free and fair election", Mr Erekat told CNN.
Israel endorses Bush’s rejection of Arafat
Israeli leaders on the other hand are said to be rejoicing at Bush’s pro-Israel stance in his speech. Israeli media called President Bush’s calls for the Palestinian people to ditch Arafat as a victory for the Jewish state.
"Bush tells Palestinians: If you want a State get rid of Arafat", the headline of the Ma’ariv newspaper proclaimed. Another daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, quoted officials in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office as being pleased with the speech.
"Bush wholly accepted the Israeli interpretation for the conflict, levelling harsh criticism at the Palestinian Authority, that rejected (Israel’s) offered hand and trafficked with terrorists", the paper wrote.
European reaction welcoming but cautious
International reaction to what is now being called "a highly controversial pro-Israel speech" has been cautious, tending to concentrate on US support for a future Palestinian state. Europe is wary of disposing off Arafat.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
The German Foreign Minster Joschka Fischer (photo) of the Green party - who has been a key mediator in the Middle East peace process and is reported to be popular among both Israelis and Palestinians – sees a decidedly clear sign in Bush’s speech that the US wants to get involved in the search for peace in the Middle East.
The German Federal Government welcomes "the first ever opened perspective, that a Palestinian state would have the full support of the United States following speedy efforts to bring about reform", he said. Germany and its partners in the European Union completely support the efforts of the United States, Fischer said.
Like Bush, Fischer also called for worthwhile reforms from the Palestinians. But he also made it clear that Palestinians alone can decide about their government.
He also said he was in favour of an international Middle East peace conference proposed by US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
French Minster Echoes German Counterpart's Sentiments
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is due to visit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat later on Tuesday, said that the speech "converges with the aims of France and the European Union".
Mr Villepin said Mr Bush had offered "the prospect of two states living side by side within safe and recognised borders".
He echoed the German Foreign Minister when he said "it was up to the Palestinians to choose their own leaders".
World leaders wary of writing off Arafat
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan praised Mr Bush’s vision of a Palestinian state existing alongside a secure Israel.
But, unlike Mr Bush, he said Arafat was a legitimate leader.
"President Arafat was chosen freely by the Palestinian people in elections that were widely welcomed by the international community in 1996", Anan’s spokesman said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country cosponsored the Middle East peace process in 1990, warned that it would be "dangerous and a mistake" to remove Mr Arafat.
Palestinians must push through reforms - Bush
Apart from his strong rebuke of the Palestinian leader, President Bush also set some tough demands on the Palestinians in his speech, saying they must create democratic institutions, a new constitution and new security. He called for a final peace settlement within three years.
"When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbours, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state", Bush said.
Bush’s speech comes against a backdrop of fresh suicide bombings in Israel and Israeli incursions into Palestinian-controlled land. Though he did not directly mention it, Mr Bush hinted that he holds Arafat and his Palestinian administration entirely responsible for the current bloodshed.