Bush Invites Abbas to White House
Bush extends hand to Palestinian leader (CBS MarketWatch)
President Bush informally invited the newly elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to the White House Monday, something he never did for Yasser Arafat, who died in November in Paris. “I look forward to welcoming him here to Washington if he chooses to come here,” Bush told reporters in the Oval Office.
Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, was elected to replace Arafat in a decisive victory, paving the way for the possible re-opening of peace talks with Israel. Abbas won roughly 62 percent of the vote, while the next leading candidate won about 20 percent of the vote.
Bush said it is “very important for Israel to fulfill its obligation on the withdrawal from the territories that they have pledged to withdraw from” as he called on Israel to play “an important part” in the development of a Palestinian state. “It is essential that Israel keep a vision of two states, living side by side in peace, and that as the Palestinians begin to develop the institutions of a state, that the Israeli government support the development of those institutions, and recognize that it is essential that there be a viable economy, that there be a viable health care system, … that people be allowed to start building a society that meets their hopes and needs,” Bush said.
“At the same time, it’s essential that the Palestinian leadership consolidate security forces, so that they can fight off those few who still have the desire to destroy Israel as a part of their philosophy and those few who fear there to be a free vote amongst the Palestinian people,” Bush said.
The symbolism of this move is quite important. By exteding this olive branch, Bush signals that the United States is giving the Palestinian Authority a fresh chance to make peace with Israel. By having Abbas to the White House, he legitimates him as a quasi-head of state. It’s also quite interesting that Bush is so publically calling for improved conduct from the Sharon government at the same time.
The history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is sufficiently long and bitter that I remain incredibly skeptical that a permanent peace can be crafted. This is clearly the best chance for that in over a decade, though. One hopes Abbas and Sharon make the most of it.