Accessibility links

Breaking News

Middle East: Bush Meets With Abbas, Urges More Steps For Peace

Mahmud Abbas (file photo) (RFE/RL) Mahmud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, visited U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House today for the second time in five months. As he has in the past, the American leader praised Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for their efforts on behalf of peace. But Bush acknowledged that both sides must do more to achieve a sovereign Palestine living peacefully beside Israel.

Washington, 20 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Bush and Abbas met for an hour at the Oval Office, then held a brief news conference, where the American praised both Abbas and Sharon as "partners for peace."

Bush said the peace process has become easier because trust between Israel and the Palestinians has grown. And that trust has grown, he said, because of actions taken by both sides in the cause of peace.

In particular, Bush cited Sharon's move to withdraw from Gaza after 38 years' occupation and from four more recent settlements from the West Bank. But he said Israel's government must do much more.

"Israel must continue to work with Palestinian leaders to help improve the daily lives of Palestinians. At the same time, Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes its road map obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem," Bush said. "This means that Israel must remove unauthorized posts and stop settlement expansion. It also means that the barrier now being built to protect Israelis from terrorist attacks must be a security barrier, rather than a political barrier."

Bush said Israel would be "held to account" for any deviations from the Middle East peace plan. The so-called road map is backed by Russia, the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union. Bush didn't explain, but Washington has withheld some aid for past actions deemed not conducive to peace.

The American leader also praised the Palestinian Authority for its help in ensuring that the Israeli withdrawals went as well as they did. But Bush also chided the Palestinians, saying it is the responsibility of both sides to adhere to the road map.

"The way forward must begin by confronting the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine, the threat that armed gangs pose to lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians," Bush said.

Bush reportedly has urged Abbas to bar suspected extremists from running for the Palestinian parliament in elections scheduled for January, and to dismantle Hamas, which the U.S. State Department has designated as a terrorist group.

Finally, Bush singled out Arab states for the contributions he expects to the stability of a Palestinian state. He said these governments have the responsibility to help build what he called a "strong and prosperous" Palestinian economy, and to do a better job of promoting peace in the region.

For his part, Abbas called on Israel to resolve outstanding issues. These include allowing a permanent corridor through Israeli territory that would link Gaza and the West Bank, an end to illegal settlements and no further construction of what Israel calls a "security barrier" along West Bank borders.

Otherwise, Abbas had warm words for Bush, saying he and his aides have helped keep the peace process on track.

After the White House meeting, Abbas had meetings scheduled with members of Congress and Vice President Dick Cheney.