Beirut Journalism Professor Ramez Maluf: Media Skeptical
President Bush said Thursday that a Mideast peace deal would require "painful concessions" on both sides as well as an end to the "occupation" of Arab land by the Israeli military.
"Now is the time to make difficult choices," Bush said after a first-ever visit to the Palestinian territories, which followed separate meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem the day before.
Earlier Thursday, Bush predicted his administration would be able to push through a Mideast peace treaty within a year.
The president is in the Mideast for eight days, hoping to jump-start long-stalled peace talks. Speaking at his hotel in Jerusalem, he said again that he thinks that is possible.
"I am committed to doing all I can to achieve it," Bush said. Within minutes, Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley said the president would return to the Middle East "at least once and maybe more" over the next year. He wouldn't elaborate on possible destinations.
Bush used tough language intended to put both sides on notice. He said he sees no reason they cannot get down to serious business, "starting right now."
He said the negotiations required security guarantees for Israel, a "contiguous" state for the Palestinians and the expectation that final borders will be negotiated to accommodate territorial changes since Israel's formation 60 years ago.
He made a point of using a loaded term — occupation — to describe Israeli control over land that would eventually form the bulk of an independent Palestinian state. That he did so in Jerusalem underscored that he is trying not to seem partial to Israel.
On borders, Bush said "any agreement will require adjustments" to the lines drawn for Israel in the late 1940s. At the same time, he reiterated that Palestinians deserve better than a "Swiss cheese" state and that a state wouldn't be viable otherwise.
"The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear," he said. "There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish a Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people."
Bush met earlier Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah in hopes of reviving negotiations with Israel.
He noted that he has 12 months before leaving office and said he is "on a timetable" to reach a peace agreement.
En route to Ramallah, Bush's motorcade whizzed through Israeli military checkpoints, which have long been a sore spot for the Palestinians. The checkpoints, they say, undermine the economy of the territories and are a humiliating daily reminder of Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
Bush said if a secure Palestinian state can be created, the checkpoints "won't be needed."
He said he is not sure that the problem of Hamas, a militant Islamic group that took over the Gaza Strip in June, can be solved within that one-year timeframe. Hamas, he said, was elected to help improve the lot of Palestinians, but "has delivered nothing but misery."
Abbas called on Israel to fulfill its commitments under a 2003 U.S.-backed Mideast peace plan. The plan calls on Israel to halt settlement activity in the West Bank, while requiring the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups. Neither side has fully carried out its obligations.
On Wednesday, Bush held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who warned there would be no peace unless attacks on Israel from Palestinian territories are halted. He said both sides "are very seriously trying to move forward" on a peace agreement.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press