Bush sees Mideast peace treaty in a year

10 01 2008

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) — US President George W. Bush on Thursday predicted the signing of a Middle East peace treaty within a year and called for an end to Israel’s four-decade occupation of Palestinian land.

Giving an assessment of his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders over the previous two days, he said it was time for both to make “difficult choices” for peace to become a reality and allow the creation of a Palestinian state.

“There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967,” he said on his return to Jerusalem from his first trip to the West Bank, where he held talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

He said a peace deal should establish a state for the Palestinians “just like Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people.”

And as he prepared to leave Friday for a tour of Washington’s Gulf allies, he called on “Arab countries to reach out to Israel, a step that is long overdue.”

Bush is in the Middle East hoping to clinch a major foreign policy victory before leaving office in January 2009 after the repeated failure of previous US administrations to broker peace.

He is seeking to advance peace talks that have been dogged since their revival in November last year by discord over Jewish settlement expansion and continuing Israeli Palestinian violence.

“I believe it’s going to happen, that there’s going to be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office,” he said in Ramallah.

“The establishment of a state of Palestine is long overdue. The Palestinian people deserve it, and it will enhance the stability of the region, and it will contribute to the security of the people of Israel.

And he said a Palestinian state had to be contiguous. “Swiss cheese isn’t going to work when it comes to the territory of a state.”

But he warned: “Security is fundamental. No agreement and no Palestinian state will be born of terror. I reaffirm America’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security.”

He took aim at the Islamist movement Hamas, whose bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip seven months ago split the Palestinians into two separately-ruled entities and has complicated peacemaking.

Since peace talks resumed in November, about 100 people, mostly gunmen, have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza aimed at halting militant rocket fire.

Bush’s comments were the first hint of the tough talking he says needs to be done if his aim of having a peace deal signed by the end of his term, in January 2009, is realised.

“Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides,” he cautioned.

He has previously called on Israel to end its occupation in June 2002, but his words Thursday carried particular resonance, given the time and place.

A senior Israeli official welcomed Bush’s comments.

“Bush’s statement reflects a solution which Israel would be happy to live with,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Bush, on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories since assuming office in 2001, will return at least once more before his term ends in January 2009, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.

Ahead of Bush’s latest statement, a US official said the president has named General William Fraser, a former B-52 bomber pilot, to supervise Israeli and Palestinian compliance with a 2003 roadmap blueprint for Middle East peace.

Although both Abbas and Olmert agreed on the eve of the Bush visit to start tackling the thorniest issues of the decades-old conflict — borders, Jerusalem and refugees — talks have stumbled.

The US president said he understood the frustrations of Palestinians who have to live with Israeli checkpoints and barricades and said Israel should “help not hinder” development of the Palestinian security forces.

He caught a glimpse of the problems facing Palestinians at Ramallah checkpoints after travelling by road from Jerusalem when fog grounded his Marine One helicopter, although Bush’s convoy swept through the barrier.

In his statement he said that as part of efforts to establish the Palestinian state, new mechanisms to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees should be created.

“I believe we need to look to the establishment of a Palestinian state and new international mechanisms including compensation to resolve the refugee issue.”

Only the second US head of state to visit the Palestinian territories, Bush faces a difficult task to win over the hearts and minds of Palestinians, who are deeply sceptical about his ability to be an even-handed peace broker as Israel’s closest ally.

“I don’t believe he will do anything for the Palestinians,” said Mohammad Khaldi, a 64-year-old Ramallah resident.

Ramallah was under virtual curfew for the visit by the leader of the world’s biggest superpower, with about 4,000 law enforcement officers ensuring the president’s security as Abbas gave him a red carpet welcome.

Security forces used tear gas and batons to break up a protest, charging about 200 demonstrators who were chanting “Bush, war criminal!”, “Bush out!”

The Bush-Abbas talks were held in the Muqata government compound which was once virtually destroyed during an Israeli siege of then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, long boycotted by Bush as an obstacle to peace.

In a break with protocol, pointedly Bush did not stop at Arafat’s tomb.

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One response

13 01 2008
Len

So Bush thinks he has the solution to the Middle East problem? Before he can do anything of substance, he needs to learn the difference between lawful administration of territories occupied during a conflict and occupation. The US is OCCUPYING Iraq. Israel had been (until a few years ago when the so-called Palestinians were given autonomy) ADMISTERING the territories.

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