Bush announces new steps to revive Mideast peace process

Washington, July 17 (Xinhua) President George W. Bush, amid growing isolation at home over his Iraq policy, made a fresh effort to revive the stalled Middle East peace process, announcing new financial assistance to the Palestinians and calling for a new international conference this fall.

“In recent weeks debate in our country has rightly focused on the situation in Iraq. Yet Iraq is not the only pivotal matter in the Middle East,” Bush said in a televised speech at the White House Monday.

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He said many changes have taken place in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — some hopeful, some dispiriting — since he laid out a new vision of two-state solution to the conflict more than five years ago.

Specifically, he accused the Hamas of “betraying the Palestinian people” with a takeover in Gaza and continuing to be devoted to “extremism”.

“This is a moment of clarity for all Palestinians, and now comes a moment of choice,” said Bush, urging the Palestinians to follow the moderate vision of President Mahmoud Abbas instead of that of the Hamas.

In order to help the Palestinians to clarify the way forward, Bush said, the US, together with other international partners, is taking a series of steps to strengthen the forces of moderation and peace among the Palestinian people.

“This year, we will provide the Palestinians with more than 190 million dollars in American assistance including funds for humanitarian relief in Gaza,” Bush announced.

He said that the US would make a direct contribution of $80 million to help Palestinians reform their security services.

Bush said his administration would work with Congress and partners around the world to provide additional resources once a plan to build Palestinian institutions is in place.

Apart from financial commitments, Bush said that the US is also prepared to strengthen its political and diplomatic commitments by supporting meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and helping increase the confidence of all parties in a two-state solution.

Moreover, the US will also strengthen its commitment to helping build the institutions of a Palestinian state, including effective governing structures, a sound financial system, and the rule of law, he added.

“All the steps I have outlined are designed to lay the foundation for a successful Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, a nation with functioning political institutions and capable security forces and leaders who reject terror and violence,” Bush said.

The US president called the international community to rise to the moment and provide decisive support to Palestinian leaders working for peace.

“The world can do more to build the conditions for peace, so 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,” Bush said.

He said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would chair the meeting, which would group key participants such as the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbours in the region.

In a seemingly balanced gesture, President Bush prodded both Israelis and the Palestinians to take actions.

“The Palestinian government must arrest terrorists, dismantle their infrastructure and confiscate illegal weapons as the road map requires,” Bush said.

“Israel has a clear path,” he said, urging the Israeli government to continue to release the Palestinian tax revenues it has withheld and take actions to remove unauthorized outposts and stop settlement expansion.