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June 25, 2004

U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approves Bush's position on Israel

By Ellis Shuman

THE U.S. Senate yesterday endorsed President George W. Bush's positions on Israel, which state that it is "unrealistic" to expect Israel to pull back to 1967 borders and that Palestinian refugees must be settled in a future Palestinian state. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a similar resolution the day before. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the overwhelming support was one of Israel's greatest achievements ever.

In a 95-3 vote, senators approved Bush's support for Sharon's disengagement plan, which calls for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and the evacuation of isolated settlements in the northern West Bank.

In adopting positions expressed by Bush in his April meeting with Sharon, and in his April 14 letter of commitment to the prime minister, the Senate's resolution stated that "it is unrealistic" for any peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians to require Israel to return to the borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War.

In addition, the resolution said a Palestinian state would have to be part of a "just, fair and realistic framework" for peace - with Palestinian refugees settling there, not in Israel.

The Senate resolution said Palestinians must stop "armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere," and must halt terrorism.

Voting against the resolution were Senators Robert Byrd (D-W.Va); James Jeffords (I-Vt); and John Sununu (R-N.H). Senators Richard Lugar (R-Ind), and John Kerry (D-Mass) did not vote.

"No one should be naive enough to think this resolution will move the (peace) process further one centimeter," Senator Byrd said, according to an Associated Press report.

The Senate's action came a day after the House approved a similar measure by a one-sided 407-9 roll call.

Yesterday Sharon called the House's adoption of the resolution "a great day in the history of Israel."

Speaking at Likud Party headquarters, Sharon said, "The bipartisan support which the president's letter has won ... is without doubt one of the most important diplomatic achievements Israel has known since its foundation."

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also warmly welcomed the Congressional support. "This is a very important decision which reflects not only the commitment of the administration to Israel, but of the Congress as well," he said.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) condemned the vote as a reversal of 30 years of U.S. foreign policy and said it undermined Washington's ability to mediate in the Middle East conflict.



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