- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

For the first time since he took office, President Bush yesterday stood shoulder to shoulder with a Palestinian Authority president in the White House Rose Garden, praising the leader’s efforts to end violence and urging all Arab states to back the Middle East peace process with financial aid.

Mr. Bush, who repeatedly shunned Yasser Arafat, pledged to his successor a direct grant of $50 million to help Palestinians improve their housing, schools and highway system. But he said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have serious responsibilities to fulfill under the U.S.-backed “road map” to Middle East peace.

“We continue to remind our friends, the Israelis, about their obligations under the road map, just like we remind President Abbas about the obligations under the road map that the Palestinians have accepted,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Abbas, the first democratically elected head of the Palestinian Authority, said in Arabic that “time is becoming our greatest enemy. We should end this conflict before it is too late.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the $50 million grant will come from money that Congress already has approved.

Because the Palestinian Authority had a long history of corruption under Mr. Arafat, the aid will be put into a special account and undergo “an elaborate process,” Mr. McClellan said, “so the money will be tracked to make sure it’s going to those specific projects it’s intended for.”

In the brief Rose Garden press conference, Mr. Bush stressed the need for Arab states to do their part in the peace process.

“Arab states must take concrete measures to create a regional environment conducive to peace,” the president said. “They must offer financial assistance to all — to support the peaceful efforts of President Abbas, his government and the Palestinian people. And they must refuse to assist or harbor terrorists.”

Mr. Bush said Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August creates an opportunity to return to the internationally drafted peace plan, which calls for the coexistence of two independent and democratic states.

“I believe that the Palestinian people are fully capable of justly governing themselves in peace with their neighbors,” he said. “Now is the time for all parties of this conflict to move beyond old grievances and act forcefully in the cause of peace.”

The president warned Israel that it “must continue to take steps toward a peaceful future and work with the Palestinian leadership to improve the daily lives of Palestinians, especially their humanitarian situation.”

Mr. Bush predicted that Palestinians, some of whom were videotaped dancing in the streets after the September 11 terrorist attacks, would reject candidates from the militant group Hamas in upcoming parliamentary elections.

“Hamas is a terrorist group; it’s on a terrorist list for a reason,” the president said. “I don’t think they’re going to get elected, because I think Palestinian moms want their children to grow up in peace just like American moms want their children to grow up in peace.”

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