updated 5/4/2004 11:27:46 AM ET 2004-05-04T15:27:46

A group of former U.S. diplomats has signed a letter to President Bush contending that his “unabashed support” for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is costing the United States “credibility, prestige and friends.”

The letter expresses deep concern over Bush’s April 14 endorsement of Sharon’s proposal to pull out of Gaza but keep some Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the U.S. is not an evenhanded peace partner,” the letter said.

The precise number who signed the letter is not clear but is believed to be around 50.

The former diplomats term Sharon’s proposal — which was rejected by his Likud party this weekend — as a “unilateral plan to toss away the rights of 3 million Palestinians, to deny the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and to retain five large illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.”

Sharon has said he will proceed despite the Likud rejection.

The American diplomats say the plan defies U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Israel’s return of Gaza and the West Bank to Palestinians, and ignores international laws declaring Israeli settlements illegal.

The letter also says extensive U.S. negotiating efforts in recent months have focused on Israel while ignoring the Palestinians.

The administration insists that it has maintained consultations with the Palestinians all along.

Bush has said repeatedly that his goal is the establishment of a Palestinian state that is at peace with Israel.

The letter was prepared by Andrew I. Killgore, the U.S. ambassador to Qatar from 1977-80, and by Richard H. Curtiss, a former chief inspector of the U.S. Information Agency.

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