JERUSALEM (AP) – The Palestinian prime minister urged the United States on Friday to stick to its original 2005 deadline for Palestinian statehood, arguing that President Bush’s recent proposal to extend it by as much as four years will give Israel time to grab more land in the disputed West Bank.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said the Palestinians want assurances from Secretary of State Colin Powell in meetings next week that the timetable in the so-called “road map” peace plan will be honored and they will have a state within 13 months.

“We’ll tell him that the four years time that was mentioned by President Bush to establish a Palestinian state will encourage the Israeli government to continue stealing our lands to build settlements and the wall,” he told a Palestinian journalist. “It is very dangerous.”

Powell and foreign ministers from Britain, Russia and other nations are traveling to the Middle East in hopes of restarting peace efforts amid a new spirit of optimism following the death of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Palestinian officials said Powell would arrive for talks in the West Bank town of Jericho on Monday.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was expected on Wednesday and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos on Dec. 2.

Signaling new flexibility, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has dropped a key demand for the resumption of negotiations – a Palestinian crackdown on militant groups. A top adviser to Sharon said Friday that peace talks could resume if the Palestinians showed some good will.

The adviser, Raanan Gissin, said that while Sharon still wants the armed groups dismantled at some point, the prime minister considers Palestinian efforts to stop incitement of hatred against Israel as a sufficient first step.

“Israel is ready to move forward,” Gissin told The Associated Press. “The first business is stop the industry of hatred … cut back on the propaganda. Stop the incitement – put to rest Arafat’s legacy, not just Arafat.”

Sharon said on Thursday that Israel would insist the militants be disarmed eventually, but added that “it is clear that it’s a complicated process.”

Such a crackdown is listed as one of the Palestinian obligations in the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, launched in June 2003, but never implemented. Israel also failed to meet its basic obligations, including a settlement freeze.

The Palestinians have refused to confront the militants, saying they fear civil war, and the standoff was one of the key obstacles in resuming negotiations.

But Qureia, who also heads the National Security Council, insisted efforts were under way to control internal chaos. Qureia has ordered all members of the security services to return to their home units. “This means that all the security details and members will be from now on under the law,” Qureia said.

In the Gaza Strip, PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas held meetings over several days with rival factions, including the Islamic militant group Hamas, to reach agreement on a cease-fire in the run-up to the Jan. 9 election of a Palestinian Authority president.

Abbas said the meetings went well, although it remains unclear whether he won any assurances from militants.

In violence Friday, a Palestinian policeman was killed by an Israeli tank shell near the Jebaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian security officials said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman denied any Israeli connection to the incident.

The head of the U.N. welfare agency appealed Friday for funds to tackle rising economic hardship in the Palestinian territories, arguing that even a revival of the peace process following Arafat’s death will fail to ease widespread poverty.

The agency is seeking $185.8 million to create jobs and rebuild homes razed during Israeli military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Peter Hansen, the head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

Unemployment has spiraled since the outbreak of violence in September 2000, standing at 36.8 percent in the Gaza Strip and 22.3 percent in the West Bank, according to figures from the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.

“When you go to a food distribution center people will be grateful for the food, but they really want a job,” Hansen said.

AP-ES-11-19-04 1547EST



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