Bush in Ramallah: Palestinian - Israeli peace treaty within one year
U.S. President George W. Bush said on Thursday he believed the Palestinians and the Israelis would sign a treaty to establish an independent state by the time he leaves the White House a year from now. During the first U.S. presidential visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah, Bush told a news conference with President Mahmoud Abbas: "I believe it's going to happen, that there will be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office."
"I am confident that with proper help the state of Palestine will emerge," Bush added, saying he stood ready to provide both political and economic backing but that Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must "come together to make hard choices".
Bush said that "terrorists" were trying to ruin Palestinian aspirations for statehood, saying that Abbas "knows that a handful of people want to dash the expectations of the Palestinian people... I appreciate your [Abbas'] understanding that the way to achieve peace is to offer an alternative vision of liberty."
Bush stated the Americans are "very much engaged" in peace negotiations. "I am confident that with proper help, the state of Palestine will emerge... I am confident that the status quo is unacceptable, Mr. President," he said to Abbas. Responding to a question about West Bank settlements, Bush said that "each side has got obligations under the road map... we have made our concerns about the expansion of settlements known."
Bush also urged Israel not to take action that undermines Abbas' security forces.
In response to a question on Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, which hinder Palestinian freedom of movement, Bush said he identified with both sides' positions. He said that the Israelis "don't want a state on their border on which attacks can be launched. I can understand that... The checkpoints create security for Israel and they create frustrations for Palestinians."
On Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas, Bush said that "there is a competing vision taking place in Gaza. Hamas... has delivered nothing but misery. I'm convinced his [Abbas'] government will yield a hopeful future." Abbas echoed the sentiments, saying, "Hamas has to retreat from its coup, then we can talk."
Speaking at the Palestinian presidential compound, Abbas praised Bush as the first U.S. president to commit fully to back a Palestinian state. Abbas urged Bush to press Israel to ease security restrictions in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian leader said: "I can see the frustrations. But I also understand that people in Israel ... want to know whether there's going to be protection from the violent few who murder."
Abbas said that he and Bush agreed on the points they raised during the meeting. During the press conference, he spelled out Palestinian demands, saying that his people seek a state with "Jerusalem as its capital and an end to the refugee problem, in accordance with UN decisions."
"The Palestinian people, who are committed to peace, want to move freely in their country, with no roadblocks, [separation] wall or settlements... We want to see a different future, without thousands of prisoners in jail and innocent deaths. We want to stop the closure," Abbas continued.