U.S. President George W. Bush threw a bone Monday to those how have accused him of ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a long address, which at times sounded more like a laundry list of the issues currently up for discussion and execution, he promised to intensify the American effort to bolster confidence of both sides in the two-state solution.
It sounded nice but less exciting than the declaration he made at the start of his second term, in which he promised to invest American capital in establishing a Palestinian state.
Monday, Bush refrained from promising to set up a Palestinian state. He made do with posing a dilemma before the Palestinians, calling on them to choose between the Hamas extremists and the moderates, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad.
Bush used very strong language in attacking Hamas, and presented the group as a gang of killers that will wreak disaster on the Palestinians, delegitimizing their hold on the Gaza Strip.
"Even we do not refer to them in such terms," a senior political source in Israel said referring to Bush's choice of words to describe Hamas.
In his address Bush presented a two-stage framework. First, the Palestinians will deal with terrorist elements and corruption, along the strict guidelines set forth by the road map. This includes arresting terrorists, disarming militants and confiscating weapons.
If the Palestinians meet these requirements, negotiations for a final status will begin with Israel, and discussions will be carried out on the "core issues," namely borders, refugees and Jerusalem.
The border between Israel and Palestine will be set by an agreement based on "the borders of the past, the realities of the present, and with agreed changes." Translation: the basic border is the Green Line, with exchanges of territory, in which Israel will compensate the Palestinians for the annexation of the settlement blocks.
Bush has accepted Abbas' demand to hold direct talks on the final settlement, an skip over the interim stage of a Palestinian state with borders that are not finalized.
But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is refusing to discuss the core issues at this stage, has nothing to worry about. He will get his extension, until the PA is clean of terrorism and corruption.
Sources close to the prime minister said he was very pleased with the speech. The harsh words used by the president against Hamas enabled Olmert to warn Abbas, even before the speech was made, that if he restores his cooperation with Hamas, the "political process will collapse."
The only demand Bush had of Israel was to evacuate outposts, and Olmert is ready to do this. The only real novelty in the speech was the initiative for a regional summit in the fall, which complement's Olmert's wish for a diplomatic gain on the eve of the Winograd Committee's report.
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