At odds with most Arab countries over war with Iraq, President Bush said Friday he would endorse a path toward Palestinian statehood immediately after the confirmation of a Palestinian prime minister.
European leaders praised Bush's move. Palestinian officials said pressure on Israel was required, not further discussion of a so-called "road map" to settlement.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair linked the timing of Bush's White House announcement to the movement toward war with Iraq. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is opposed to any war, lined up behind Bush and said his statement was "identical to the European and German position."
The French Foreign Ministry called Bush's initiative "an important step" that could resolve a conflict "in which two peoples are tearing each other apart."
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Bush said he would give the "road map" to Israel and the Palestinians after Mahmoud Abbas, known also as Abu Mazen, has been confirmed as prime minister, which is expected in about a week.
"Once this road map is delivered, we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance true peace," Bush said. "We will urge them to discuss the road map with one another."
Elements of the Bush plan, known widely for nearly a year, would establish a Palestinian state before the end of 2005 on land held by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Bush had conditioned U.S. support for a Palestinian state on removal of Yasser Arafat, symbol of the Palestinian statehood movement for four decades and currently head of the Palestinian Authority. Bush's statement indicated Friday that Abbas' appointment would satisfy U.S. objections to Arafat, provided the prime minister assumes authority over security and over negotiations with Israel.
Still, Arafat seemed to remain in charge, with the final say in those two areas. The new prime minister is to run day-to-day Palestinian affairs.
Blair accorded Arafat the respect of a leader, telephoning him. Arafat asked the prime minister to "exert pressure on Israel."
Other Palestinian officials were skeptical that Bush had moved the process forward. "I thought we had finished the comment phase last November," Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.
Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia said the Palestinians already accepted the "road map." "What is needed now is to immediately unveil the road map and pressure the Israeli government to accept it without any amendments in order to begin implementing it immediately," Qureia said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ruled out negotiations while Palestinian terror attacks continue. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a House subcommittee Thursday the attacks were hampering U.S. mediation efforts.
From the outset, Bush has shunned contact with Arafat, and that appears not to have been changed. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday, "We have no interest in talking to Arafat."
On the other hand, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's chief national security adviser, said, "There would be nothing better, at some point in time when it is appropriate, for a Palestinian prime minister to visit the White House."
With his announcement, Bush was responding to European as well as Arab complaints of inaction as he declared Israel could not have peace without giving way to a Palestinian state.
"There can be no peace for either side in the Middle East unless there is freedom for both," he said. "The time has come to move beyond entrenched positions, and to take concrete actions to achieve peace."
In London, Blair said, "I think it is precisely now, when we do have all this focus on the issue of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam and all the things that he has done . . . that we say to the Arab and Muslim world, we accept the obligation of evenhandedness" between Israel and the Palestinians, Blair said.
King Abdullah II of Jordan welcomed Bush's statement. He called for a fair settlement that would guarantee full Arab rights.
Many Arab and European governments insist that terror attacks against the United States are rooted largely in Palestinian frustration.
The Bush administration has not made such a link in effectively declaring war on al-Qaida and other terror groups.
Still, Bush seized on the creation of a prime minister's post as a springboard for stepping up U.S. mediation, with the help of the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
Rabbi Jerome Epstein of New York, one of about two-dozen American Jews called in to meet with Rice, said afterward that "people there were interested in pushing that the security of Israel would be protected."
Amy Friedkin and Howard Kohr, president and executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby group, said in a statement that they welcomed "President Bush's consistent support for a peace process predicated on proven, effective Palestinian leadership."