- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas spoke with President Bush for a half hour Monday in the Oval Office. Here is the transcript of that conversation:

Q: Given all that´s happened in Gaza — if you want to go back 60 years to the founding of Israel — you have been among the most optimistic in saying that you believe a Palestinian state can be created and exist side by side in peace with Israel.

THE PRESIDENT: Right.

Q: Would you tell me what evidence there is, especially now, to maintain such optimism?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, a president must be able to look over the horizon; … the only way for Israel to have the long-term security she needs is for there to be a democracy on her border. I recognize facts on the ground today make it hard for people to envision a state existing.

But, you know, eventually a democracy can take hold. And, as a matter of fact, the definition of a state was being negotiated by Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. And I just said on TV that what we´re witnessing is the use of violence to stop the advance of democracies.

Now, eventually people in the Palestinian Territories will hopefully be able to make a clear decision about do you want a peaceful state, or do you want this kind of violence? And so this is yet another moment of clarity for people around the world and in the Middle East to see reality. And the reality is that a few use violence to stop the dreams of many.

The same thing happened in Iraq. As this young democracy was taking hold, terrorists, suiciders, killers did what they thought was necessary to shake the will of the people and shake the coalition so as to stop the advance of a free society. And yet, over time the Iraqi situation has gotten better and democracy is beginning to take hold.

I think the same thing can happen (in Gaza). I absolutely believe most people, most Palestinians, want to live in peace.

Q: And yet, when they had the chance to express their will, they voted Hamas in.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, they did — in a relatively close election. But just remember, that vote wasn´t on whether or not it was going to be war or peace. That vote was on who best can provide health and education. And I viewed the vote as a repudiation of the previous Fatah leadership, as well as a vote that said, we are sick and tired of corruption, non-transparency, and we expect to be treated better.

And so, yes, it was a vote that was also a moment of clarity. And one of the things I reminded the Fatah leadership is that, you know, you got a wakeup call — and that is, the people were tired of you. And so, therefore, you ought to reform your party and get listening to the demands of the people, which is what´s beginning to happen in the West Bank.

Q: How do you process that with the continued teaching at Palestinian schools of “hate the Jews,” “hate the Gentiles,” “hate the West”?

THE PRESIDENT: Whether it is hate the West, hate the United States, it´s the whole propaganda war that´s taking place. But it´s not just isolated to the West Bank or Gaza, it is part of the propaganda campaign being waged by extremists throughout the Middle East — you know, the United States is at war with Islam, or, the United States doesn´t like you, or, the United States this, that or the other. And the way you defeat that is the development of free societies and better efforts on our own part to clarify what our position is.

But, yes, if your question is, do we face a big obstacle in convincing people that democracy and freedom is the way to move, then the answer is, absolutely, through the propaganda efforts of extremists.

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