Bush predicts Mideast peace treaty

December 22, 2008 2:02:45 PM PST
President Bush, summing up meetings with both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, said Thursday that a peace accord will require "painful political concessions" by each. Resolving the status of Jerusalem will be hard, he said, and he called for the end of the "occupation" of Arab land by the Israeli military.

"Now is the time to make difficult choices," Bush said after a first-ever visit to the Palestinian territories, which followed separate meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem the day before.

Bush is in the Mideast for eight days, trying to bolster his goal of achieving a long-elusive peace agreement by the end of his presidency in a year. Speaking at his hotel in Jerusalem, he said again that he thinks that is possible.

"I am committed to doing all I can to achieve it," Bush said. Within minutes, Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley said the president would return to the Middle East "at least once and maybe more" over the next year. He wouldn't elaborate on possible destinations.

Bush gave his most detailed summation yet of what a final peace should include, including U.S. expectations for the resolution of some of the hardest issues in the violent conflict, one of the world's longest-running and most intractable. He used tough language intended to put both sides on notice that he sees no reason they cannot get down to serious business, "starting right now."

In his set of U.S. bottom lines were security for Israel, a "contiguous" state for the Palestinians and the expectation that final borders will be negotiated to accommodate territorial changes since Israel's formation 60 years ago.

He made a point of using a loaded term -- occupation -- to describe Israeli control over land that would eventually form the bulk of an independent Palestinian state. That he did so in Jerusalem underscored that he is trying not to seem partial to Israel.

On borders, Bush said "any agreement will require adjustments" to the lines drawn for Israel in the late 1940s. He was referring to Israeli neighborhoods on disputed lands that Israel would keep when an independent Palestinian state is formed.

At the same time, Bush reiterated that Palestinians deserve better than a "Swiss cheese" state, and that a state wouldn't be viable otherwise.

"The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear," he said. "There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish a Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people."

He offered no specifics to resolve the fact of disputed Jerusalem, but urged both sides to work toward a solution in what he said could be the most difficult issue to settle in a long list of difficult issues.

"I know Jerusalem is a tough issue," Bush said. "Both sides have deeply felt political and religious concerns."

"It is vital that each side understands that satisfying the other's fundamental objectives is key to a successful agreement," the president said. "Security for Israel and viability for the Palestinian state are in the mutual interests of both parties."


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