Tuesday, July 17, 2007

President Bush, seeking a new legacy as his second-term initiatives falter in Congress, yesterday announced that the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with leaders from neighboring Arab states, will meet this fall to jump-start Mideast peace talks.

Striving once again to take a leading role in the long standoff, the president pledged $190 million in U.S. aid to the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who last month expelled Hamas Islamists from his national security council after the militant group seized the Gaza Strip.

“I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and commit to all previous agreements between the parties,” Mr. Bush said in a White House statement.

“This is a moment of clarity for all Palestinians. Now comes a moment of choice. The alternatives before the Palestinian people are stark,” he said.

Mr. Bush called for “donor” nations — including the Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan — to consider more international aid and for all players to convene for the major summit, to be led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Miss Rice and her counterparts “will review the progress that has been made toward building Palestinian institutions,” the president said. “They will look for innovative and effective ways to support further reform. And they will provide diplomatic support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations so that we can move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr. Abbas welcomed the call for revived peace talks. Abbas adviser Nabil Amr said the Palestinian leader saw the call as “opening a new door that would lead to reviving peacemaking.”

Mr. Olmert’s spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, said Mr. Bush’s initiative “adds to the momentum” of bilateral talks already under way between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who met earlier yesterday in Jerusalem. She said a conference could be “an excellent umbrella to support the moderate Palestinians and to give a real push” to those bilateral talks.

In his White House speech, Mr. Bush urged Arab states to take a leading role in solving the decades-old dispute.

“They should show strong support for President Abbas’ government and reject the violent extremism of Hamas,” he said.

The president called for restarting the Arab League initiative to promote peace negotiations. And he had stern words for Arab leaders who seek to ignore Israel or call for its destruction.

“Arab nations should build on this initiative — by ending the fiction that Israel does not exist, stopping the incitement of hatred in their official media, and sending Cabinet-level visitors to Israel. With all these steps, today’s Arab leaders can show themselves to be the equals of peacemakers like Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush said the past few years had seen many changes — “some hopeful, some dispiriting” — in the Middle East and called on leaders to begin to build on recent achievements. The United States and the European Union moved swiftly last month to increase aid to Mr. Abbas after he ousted the militia forces of Hamas from his government and installed an emergency Cabinet.

The president reiterated strong U.S. support for Mr. Abbas and his new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who he said “are striving to build the institutions of a modern democracy.”

The president is expected to announce soon a request for aid more than the $86 million that the White House has asked Congress to approve, a move intended to shore up Mr. Abbas’ Fatah faction. Mr. Bush announced that his administration will “make a direct contribution of $80 million to help Palestinians reform their security services.”

“We will work with Congress and partners around the world to provide additional resources once a plan to build Palestinian institutions is in place,” he said. “With all this assistance, we are showing the Palestinian people that a commitment to peace leads to the generous support of the United States.”

The administration also has pledged to contribute $40 million to the United Nations to help the Palestinians, particularly in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The international meeting will await recommendations from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was recently named as special envoy to the region by the “Quartet” of Mideast peacemakers — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.

That group meets in Portugal on Thursday, at which time Miss Rice and other international negotiators will meet with Mr. Blair as he begins his new assignment. White House spokesman Tony Snow said Mr. Bush had discussed his new proposals with Mr. Blair.

While urging Palestinians to move toward reconciliation, Mr. Bush also called on Israel to remove unauthorized outposts in Palestinian territory and end settlement expansion. And he urged Israel to continue releasing tax revenues to the Palestinian authority.

But he was harsh toward Hamas: “There is the vision of Hamas, which the world saw in Gaza, with … murderers in black masks, and summary executions, and men thrown to their death from rooftops,” he said.

“By following this path, the Palestinian people would guarantee chaos and suffering and the endless perpetuation of grievance. They would surrender their future to Hamas’ foreign sponsors in Syria and Iran, and they would crush the possibility of any — of a Palestinian state.”

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