President Bush Plans Mideast Peace Summit

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President Bush plans to call Israel, the Palestinians and others in the Middle East to a peace conference aimed at restarting stalled talks and moving faster toward a Palestinian state. The conference is open to those supportive of a two-state solution to the long Israeli-Palestinian standoff.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

All the setbacks of his presidency have not stopped President Bush from declaring big goals. His latest is an effort for Middle East peace. The president has announced plans for a peace conference this fall. He's also pledging more money to help Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But five years after the president promised to work for the Palestinian state, analysts say that two-state solution looks more distant than ever.

Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: It was June 2002 when President Bush laid out his vision of a Palestinian state and encouraged Palestinians to elect new leaders who could make peace with Israel.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: An end to occupation and a peaceful democratic Palestinian state may seem distant. But America and her partners throughout the world stand ready to help.

KELEMEN: Now five years later, the Palestinian territories are divided. Gaza is run by Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization. Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas has formed a new government in the West Bank. President Bush is again encouraging Palestinians to make a choice of moderation over extremism - Abbas over Hamas.

President BUSH: By supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad, we can help them show the world what a Palestinian state would look like and act like. We can help them prove to the world, the region and Israel that a Palestinian state would be a partner, not a danger.

KELEMEN: Mr. Bush said the U.S. would spend $80 million to train and equip forces loyal to Abbas and give $190 million in humanitarian aid to both the West Bank and Gaza. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to preside over an international conference this fall to talk about ways to jumpstart a peace process.

But analysts say the odds were better a few years ago after Yasser Arafat died and Abbas was first elected. Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars says what has happened since then does not bode well for peace.

Mr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): I see a Palestinian polity that is more decentralized and fragmented than ever.

I see an Israeli political system which tends to be in a perpetual state of uncertainty. And I see in America that is caught somewhere between wanting to fulfill the president's vision, but either not knowing how or not caring enough in order to expend the resources and the political capital necessary to do so.

KELEMEN: Miller, who's coming out with a book next year called "The Much Too Promised Land," says the only way to empower Abbas is with the real peace process. He also says it will be impossible to marginalize Hamas, a thought echoed by Paul Pillar, a former intelligence official now at Georgetown University.

Professor PAUL PILLAR (Georgetown University): We would be dealing in the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy when we talk about Hamas is a center of extremism if we have a Hamas-tan in Gaza that has been isolated and where we have done everything we can to keep it from governing. The result would be more terrorism, more violence, more instability emanating from such a Gaza.

KELEMEN: Well, President Bush described Hamas as, quote, "murderers in black masks," Pillar said the president failed to mention the fact that Palestinians voted for Hamas in free elections.

Mr. PILLAR: Even though we choose to apply the moderate versus extremist lens to how we perceive it or describe the situation, that's not the way the Palestinians themselves do.

KELEMEN: Pillar believes Hamas has to be part of the solution, though there is no sign that the Bush administration would take steps in that direction.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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