- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

RAMALLAH President Bush today arrived in the unofficial capital of the Palestinian Authority, where he met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the future of the Middle East peace process. If given a chance, the Palestinian people will work for freedom, Mr. Bush said in a press conference between meetings with Mr. Abbas and his top advisers in the Muqata, the compound of offices used by Mr. Abbas Fatah party. Mr. Bush praised Mr. Abbas for his leadership and commitment to peace. But he has also said Mr. Abbas must do more to rein in missile attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip by Hamas militants. Mr. Abbas, whose own government complex is still being rebuilt from Israeli rocket attacks of a few years ago, does not control the Gaza Strip. Hamas wrested control of the territory from Fatah earlier this year. Mr. Abbas said that Hamas has engaged in a coup and must retreat. They have to recognize … the Arab peace initiative, Mr. Abbas said. Hamas militants yesterday launched 19 rockets into southern Israel, prompting an attack by the Israeli army that killed four persons and injured two. Mr. Bush has said that Israel must be able to defend itself from such attacks. The Bush administration has said that the only way for Mr. Abbas to gain leverage over Hamas is if the Palestinian people reject the leadership of Hamas. Mr. Bush said that Hamas has delivered nothing but misery to the Palestinians, after winning parliamentary elections in 2006 on promises to improve basic services and governance. Do you want the future, based on a Democratic state, or do you want the same old stuff? Mr. Bush said. Thats a choice that Im confident, if the Palestinian people are given, they will choose peace. To that end, Mr. Bush and the Israelis, along with the Quartet of the U.S., Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, are negotiating economic aid to rebuild Palestinian governmental institutions without empowering Hamas. The U.S. has pledged about $500 million toward a $5.6 billion package negotiated by Quartet representative Tony Blair, Britains former prime minister. But some of that aid must be approved by Congress in the upcoming federal budget. Mr. Bush is the first U.S. president to visit Ramallah, which was seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, and then returned to Palestinian control in 1995 under the Oslo Accords. Former Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat was under house arrest here from 2002 to 2004 while the Muqata was under siege from the Israeli army. Mr. Arafat, who died in 2004 in Paris, is buried in the Muqata, but Palestinians say it is only a temporary internment, and that his body will be moved to Jerusalem if Palestinians take control of the city. President Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit a Palestinian territory. He visited the Gaza Strip in 1998. Mr. Bush arrived in Israel yesterday and held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli leaders. After his meetings with the Palestinians today, Mr. Bush will meet again with Mr. Olmert tonight. Mr. Bush will meet with Mr. Blair tomorrow. He has insisted that he will not insert himself into negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but he has pressured the Palestinians on the rocket issue and has pressured Israel to shut down illegal settlements in the territories. Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert agreed in November, at a U.S.-hosted peace conference in Annapolis, Md., to reach an agreement on all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, by the end of 2008. The main issues facing the two sides are the right of Israel to defend itself against terrorism, the future of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israels border, and the right of Palestinian refugees in camps outside Israel to return. Mr. Bush in 2002 became the first U.S. president to call for a two-state solution that included a sovereign, independent Palestine.

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