President Bush sought to assure Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday that a peace agreement with Israel remains possible, as he began to accelerate his personal diplomacy in advance of his second trip to the Middle East this year.
In his own words: "The thing that I'm focused on, and you are, is how to define a [Palestinian] state that is acceptable to both sides," Bush said. "I'm confident it can get done."
The mood: Bush met with Abbas at the White House amid pessimism in the region about the prospects for forging a deal to resolve the core issues that have divided the Israelis and Palestinians, including the borders of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem. White House press secretary Dana Perino said the two sides have made only "halting progress" since November's peace talks in Annapolis, Md.
What's at stake: Abbas came to Washington this week looking for help from the administration in easing politically problematic conditions, including Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Israeli checkpoints that make movement difficult for many Palestinians. Many senior Palestinians are worried that such activities erode public confidence in the peace process, said Ghaith al-Omari, advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine.
The outlook: Abbas did most of the talking in his session with Bush, Perino said. "The president let him have his say about his hopes, his concerns, his commitment, his frustration, his seriousness," she said. "The president reaffirmed for him his belief ... they can define a Palestinian state by the end of the year, but they are going to have to put their shoulder behind it."