Mr. Bush told the Associated Press, ”President Abbas is a man devoted to peace and to his people’s aspiration for a state of their own.”
“And today, the Palestinian people are closer to realizing their aspiration.”
President Bush also pressed Israel to halt construction of West Bank settlements. He assured Abbas he shared his vision of two states living side by side in peace, but said the Palestinian government must shore up power in the Gaza Strip which has been the scene of chaos and lawlessness since Israel pulled out in August.
Mr. Bush referred to a U.N. blueprint for peacemaking, which was approved by the United States, when he warned that “Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes its roadmap obligations.” Without elaboration, he said Israel would be “held to account” for any actions that hamper peacemaking or burden the lives of Palestinians.
Abbas also insisted that Israel remove roadblocks and lift curbs on Palestinian travel in the West Bank, saying the restrictions had caused his people “hardship and humiliation.” He criticized Israel’s security wall — especially in Jerusalem — where Palestinians hope to establish their state capital.
Abbas assured President Bush that election of a Palestinian legislature in January would establish one law to govern that area.
Last May when the two met in the Rose Garden, Abbas said Palestinians were “in dire need of freedom.” President Bush’s support signals progress toward Abbas’ goal.
Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon enacted initiatives to relinquish Gaza after a 38-year occupation. Israel has also dismantled four West Bank settlements.
One of Abbas’ most pressing issues is the extreme poverty of his people. Almost all of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza are desperately poor. Abbas is seeking help from Israel to get November’s harvest to outside markets, and also would like to focus attention on Palestinian demands for full-scale Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, according to the AP.