The President's News Conference With President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority
President Bush. Thank you all. Thanks. It's my honor to welcome the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian Authority to the White House for the second time this year. We just had some good talks. Mr. President, thanks—a good, open, exchange of ideas.
President Abbas is a man devoted to peace and to his people's aspirations for a state of their own. And today the Palestinian people are closer to realizing those aspirations. It's a really interesting period of history, I think. I was just commenting to the President when we were in the Oval Office, how much things have changed in the Holy Land. After all, he got elected in January; there were successful Palestinian municipal elections; and then we witnessed the completion of Israel's disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. It's been an eventful year.
And I say it's an eventful year because the ultimate objective is there—for there to be two states, living side by side in peace, two democracies living side by side in peace. And I believe that's where we're headed. Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of West Bank was a bold decision with historic significance. President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority contributed to the success of the withdrawal in significant ways. Mr. President, thank you.
Through the active coordination and ground-level cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, the disengagement has been completed successfully and calmly. Israeli withdrawal creates new opportunities, creates responsibilities for the Palestinian people.
The way forward must begin by confronting the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine. And those armed gangs must confront the threat that armed gangs pose to lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Now, Mr. President, you ran on a platform of peace. That's why the people voted for you. I strongly support your rejection of terror and your commitment to what you have called, one authority, one law, and one gun. The United States, in cooperation with the international community, has helped you achieve this through the efforts of our senior U.S. security coordinator, General Kip Ward. I appreciate your service, General Ward. Thank you for being here, and thank you for all your hard work to help the Palestinian security forces at a critical time. Job well done.
In the coming days, I'll be naming our new coordinator to build on the progress General Ward has made. This person will take on an enhanced mission to help President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority carry out their responsibility to end terror attacks, dismantle terrorist infrastructure, maintain law and order, and one day, provide security for their own state.
The way forward must include rebuilding the Palestinian economy. This goal has the support of the Quartet, the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia. Quartet Special Envoy Jim Wolfensohn is coordinating a broad effort to generate economic and financial support from the international community for the Palestinian Authority, and he's doing a good job. I'm going to continue to consult with our Quartet partners to ask Jim to extend his mission until next spring.
It's important that we make quick progress on the issues that Jim has identified as most critical for the Palestinian economy, including opening the Rafah crossing, connecting the West Bank and Gaza, improving the ability of Palestinians to travel in the West Bank, and beginning work on the Gaza seaport. These are all practical steps that will help the Palestinian economy grow and flourish. I believe that Arab States have a particular responsibility to help the Palestinians build a strong and prosperous economy, and I urge them to create an environment in the region that strengthens the possibility of peace.
The way forward must continue to include democratic elections. The upcoming elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council offer an opportunity to open the door to the next generation of Palestinian leaders. They'll be responsible for building a peaceful and hopeful future for their country.
In the short term, the Palestinian Authority must earn the confidence of its people by holding elections and having a functioning government that delivers economic opportunity. The Palestinian Authority must also earn the confidence of its neighbors by rejecting and fighting terrorism.
As I have stated in the past, achieving peace demands action from all parties. Israel must continue to work with Palestinian leaders to help improve the daily lives of Palestinians. At the same time, Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes its roadmap obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. This means that Israel must remove unauthorized posts and stop settlement expansion. It also means that the barrier now being built to protect Israelis from terrorist attacks must be a security barrier, rather than a political barrier. Israeli leaders must take into account the impact this security barrier has on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities.
This is a time of great possibility in the Middle East. And the people of the region are counting on their leaders to seize the opportunities for peace and progress. This work isn't going to be easy, but the path forward is clear. I want to thank President Abbas for his hard work. I appreciate your service, Mr. President. I assured him that the United States will use our influence to help realize a shared vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
President Abbas. Thank you. Mr. President, I would like to thank you for your warm welcome, and I would like to express my satisfaction with the talks that I conducted with you and your senior aides.
You have emphasized, Mr. President, from this place, about 5 months ago, the basic counters for the U.S. position regarding the various aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This position, which you have reiterated today, contributes fundamentally to advance the chances of reviving and resuming the peace process in the region.
In the last few months, the dismantling of settlements and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip was concluded. The Palestinian Authority have worked very hard with all its energy in order to make sure that this will happen without any incident, in order to have this as a window of an opportunity that will help us to move faster toward achieving additional steps on the way toward realizing just peace based on your vision and on international resolutions.
This window, Mr. President, must remain open. And this opportunity must be strengthened through resolving all the outstanding issues—as you have mentioned, the Gaza crossing point and the establishment of a permanent link between Gaza and West Bank. At the same time, we must immediately start implementing what the roadmap and the Sharm el-Sheikh agreements regarding the cessation of settlement activities and construction of the wall in the West Bank, particularly in Jerusalem, in addition to withdrawal of the Israeli forces to positions prior to September 28, 2000.
With the removal of the roadblocks, which, unfortunately, turned the lives of Palestinians into hardship, suffering, humiliation, and also in a very important sensitive issue, which is the release of prisoners of freedom from Israeli jails. The implementation of these requirements, Mr. President, represents urging the talks on permanent status issues regarding Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, in order to reach, at the end, peace, which would allow for the establishment of an independent, democratic Palestinian state, on all the territories occupied in 1967. That state that would live in a good, neighborly relationship, in peace with the State of Israel.
Mr. President, there is approximately 100 days between us and the elections for our legislative council, where the Palestinian people would go to the ballot box to elect for the first time since their—for the first time in 10 years—their representatives. This for us represents a very important landmark. On one hand, it crowns a whole year since I assumed office, and also, these elections would represent a renewal process, and a rebuilding process of our political process.
Also, these elections will consolidate and reinforce the slogan I ran on during my Presidential election, which emphasized clearly the one authority, the one law, the one legal, legitimate law, and political pluralism. The new legislative council would be mandated by the people to legislate and issue these slogans and make them a reality.
Once again, we repeat our pride of our democratic experience that's been undertaken by the Palestinian people, and we repeat and we say that the democracy can lose a lot of its momentum in the absence of freedom and with the continuation of occupation.
Mr. President, our discussions today have allowed us to inform you of what the Palestinian National Authority is doing and what we are doing in terms of various policies in various spheres. We have worked and we will continue to work to continue to ensure the calm and maintain it. We are also intensifying our work in the field of security. We have taken active steps in imposing the rule of law and public order and ban armed demonstrations.
Our measures are continuing to reinforce the judiciary branch, as well as the administrative reform. We have said, and we did during the last week start launching a series of economic projects in the infrastructure and in health and education and agriculture in both Gaza and the West Bank.
And here I would like to salute the United States for its contribution and also the help that came from a variety of Arab countries and countries around the world. And we hope that all these projects will be activated by the donors' countries in order to increase the number of projects that our people are in need of.
Our discussion of the overall situation in the region has afforded us the opportunity to point out what we reaffirmed repeatedly through the past few weeks, on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization: We are determined not to interfere in domestic Lebanese affairs. We reiterate that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are subject to the authority and the laws of Lebanon as temporary guests awaiting the resolution of the refugee problem in the accordance with the international resolutions.
Mr. President, we reaffirm again here today our commitment to peace and negotiated settlement. We expect that our people's quest in this direction will be supported. The time has come to put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The time has come that the Palestinian people will attain their freedom and independence. The time has come to move quickly towards the resumption of permanent status negotiations.
Peace requires a departure from the policies of occupation and the adoption of the principle of freedom. Peace requires departure from the policies of settlements construction, the collective punishment, unilateral acts that undermine your vision toward two states and replace that with progress towards negotiations. Peace and security cannot be guaranteed by the construction of walls, by the erection of checkpoints, and the confiscation of land but rather by the recognition of rights.
Peace cannot be attained by the enforcement of discriminatory road policies and by the policies of imposition and creation of facts on the ground but rather through belief in the principles of partnership, parity, and mutual respect.
We are presenting, based on wide public support, our positions that call upon the Israeli side to join us in a real partnership for making peace. We are calling for a Palestinian-Israeli partnership for the sake of creating a better future and for the entire region that can end decades from wars, occupation, and open the doors wide open. We were promised peace, independence, and freedom, and we hope that all of this will be achieved.
Mr. President, once again, I thank you, and reaffirm to you, as we did in our last visit, we are leaving Washington more sure and—more confidence of the possibility of reviving and resuming the peace process and more determined to forge ahead along with the path of peace, democracy, and freedom. Thank you, Mr. President.
President Bush. We'll take two questions a side. Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press].
Q. Thank you. Mr. President, there are a lot of distractions for your White House, the CIA leak investigation, a conservative uproar and congressional criticism over the Harriet Miers nomination, and even investigations of top Republican leaders in Congress. How preoccupied is the White House by these problems, and how are you dealing with them?
President Bush. Well, I've just finished a very constructive dialog with the President of the Palestinian Authority, talking about how to achieve peace.
And I've got a job to do. Part of my job is to work with others to fashion a world that will be peaceful for future generations. And I've got a job to do to make sure this economy continues to grow. I've got a job to make sure that there is a plausible reconstruction plan for cities affected by Katrina. I've got a job to make sure this hurricane headed toward Florida is—the Federal response is prepared for it.
So, to answer your question, there's some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining. But the American people expect me to do my job, and I'm going to.
Want to call on somebody, Mr. President. Oops. We've better go one at a time here.
Q. President Bush——
President Bush. Who do you work for?
Building Trust in the Middle East
Q. AFP [Agence France Presse]. The roadmap that your administration backs calls for the creation of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
President Bush. Yes.
Q. Yet, the Israelis' settlement activities, despite your repeated calls, included today, still continue in the West Bank. What is your administration planning to do to get Israel to put an end to those activities?
And then, President Abbas——
[At this point, the reporter continued his question in Arabic, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter as follows.]
——what are the practical steps that they want Bush—President Bush to take in order to establish the Palestinian state before the end of his term?
President Bush. As I said in my comments, and—that we expect all parties to adhere to the roadmap. And we are holding people to account on the pledges that both the Palestinians and the Israelis have made on the roadmap. And we do so publicly, and we do so privately.
It's—a lot of these issues that have been, you know, very difficult for a long period of time become easier to resolve as there's more trust between the parties. And trust becomes a permanent part of the political process as action on the ground takes place. The Gaza withdrawal is a magnificent opportunity to help develop trust. It's an opportunity to develop trust between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And after all, the world watched strong cooperation between two willing governments to help the disengagement of Gaza, which is a, you know—right now, I guess, we take it all for granted.
You look back—I think prior to the disengagement, there was a lot of consternation, a lot of concern. I suspect some of you might have even reported that, you know, "Better watch out. This disengagement could end up being a very difficult period." And yet thanks to the President's leadership and Prime Minister Sharon's leadership, the disengagement worked, which established trust.
The President has got an—a job, and that's to establish trust with the Palestinian people. He is a man who said, "I'm running on a peace platform," and therefore, he has talked to us about using security forces to make sure that armed gangs don't disrupt the democratic process. And our job is to help him do that. And so to answer your question, yes, we hold people to account for their promises made on the road-map. And many of those promises will be easier to keep for all parties as there's progress on the ground. And we have seen remarkable progress during the past year.
And there's—and the progress isn't over this year. There will be elections. This is a very hopeful period. I'm very upbeat about being able to achieve this vision. I understand it's hard. Things don't happen overnight. Old feuds aren't settled immediately, and it takes awhile.
The key thing, as far as I'm concerned, is that there are partners in peace. Prime Minister Sharon wants there to be peace. President Abbas wants there to be peace. And both men are showing strong leadership toward achieving that objective, and that's why I'm confident. I'm a heck of a lot more confident today than when— I was when I first came into office. I know it's nearly 5 years ago, and that's an eternity for some, but there has been remarkable progress in this part of the world. And we'll continue to work with the parties to achieve this important objective, two democratic states living side by side in peace.
President Abbas. Thank you. The truth is, our answer to that question, we have to change the question: What are we supposed to do—as Palestinians and Israelis— to do.
First of all, we have to work. We have to do our part. We have to think as partners. So many years passed by, more than 4 years we did not have any dialog. We did not have any talks. And now we have confidence. We need to rebuild and build on that confidence and on the relationship.
And on our side, we are extending our hand to be a true partners in the peace process, and we hope that the Israeli side also will do the same, so we can do our parts. And what we ask President Bush to do is what he mentioned during his remarks, the roadmap and the achievement and the realization of his vision. The road-map talks about settlements, about the barrier, all these issues that will facilitate the road to achieving true peace, and will facilitate building the confidence between the two peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians.
President Bush. Steve [Steve Holland, Reuters].
Associate Justice-Designate Harriet E. Miers
Q. Thanks very much, sir. Senator Specter called the rollout of the Miers nomination chaotic. Is that a fair criticism? Are you satisfied with the way the nomination has been handled? Would you be willing to release any more documents about her if it would help?
President Bush. First of all, it's an unusual nomination because she's never been a judge. And so, generally, people are used to looking at different court opinions and how one ruled on this case or how one ruled on that case. That's not the case with Harriet.
I picked Harriet for a lot of reasons. One reason was because she had never been a judge. I thought it made a lot of sense to bring a fresh outlook of somebody who has actually been a very successful attorney and not only a successful attorney but been a pioneer for women lawyers in Texas. I remind you that she was one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States; she's consistently ranked that way. And so this is a little different process than the norm. I understand that.
Secondly, the questionnaire that she filled out is an important questionnaire, and obviously they will address the questions that the Senators have in the questionnaire—or as a result of the answers to the questions in the questionnaire. But one thing the questionnaire does show, if people look at it carefully, is Harriet's judicial philosophy. And it's the main reason I picked her to serve on the bench, if confirmed, and that is that she is not going to legislate from the bench. She will strictly interpret the Constitution.
I said that when I ran for President— I said, "If you elect me, I will name people that will have that judicial philosophy." I've now had two chances, one, John Roberts, and now Harriet Miers. And they share the same judicial philosophy. That's what the questionnaire says.
And so Harriet will answer all the questions asked, and—but out of this will come a clear picture of a competent, strong, capable woman who shares the same judicial philosophy that I share.
Do you want to call on somebody, Mr. President?
Situation in the Middle East
Q. Thank you, President Abbas. As President Bush referred and said, that the only way to achieve progress and the peace road is combating armed gangs. And you are facing difficulties in doing this. Are you going to seek help and support from American President George Bush, to help you in disarming the resistance movements?
And President, you say you wanted to see the Palestinian state made before the end of your Presidency. Are you still hoping to see something like that? This is number one. Number two, don't you think the time has come for—to talk about timetables to get the two parties to the issues of final status negotiations?
President Abbas. Regarding your questions, I am saying that we are truly in need of help from the United States in a variety of issues, economic issues and financial issues and also security support. And the reason is having General Ward among us, a man who has done a magnificent job, and we appreciate him and appreciate his work very much.
Regarding the—our internal issues, we are following a policy. I believe it is a successful policy. When we started and we asked everyone to accept the hudna or the calming, all the organizations that are recognized accepted that. Then we moved into another phase, and that is the phase of banning all public demonstrations with firearms. All groups accepted that.
Now, all groups are underway to the electoral process, so all groups will become a part of the political Palestinian fabric. I believe this will create a new phase in the life of Palestinian people. It's a phase of democracy and pluralism in full fledge in order to be a solid base for peace in the region.
President Bush. I believe that two democratic states living side by side in peace is possible. I can't tell you when it's going to happen. It's happening. And the reason I can't is because there will be moments of progress, and there will be moments of setback. The key is to keep moving forward, is to have partners in peace to move forward.
But one thing that will not happen is that we will try—the United States will try to conform and force parties to make decisions based upon the political schedule in America. That doesn't make any sense. What matters is the decisions made by the Palestinians and the Israelis and the confidence earned as we move forward.
And so you said, "I would like to see two states before I get out of office." Not true. I'd like to see two states. And if it happens before I get out of office, I'll be there to witness the ceremony. And if it hadn't—if it doesn't, we will work hard to lay that foundation so that the process becomes irreversible.
Timetables are, you know, interesting— an interesting thing. Everybody wants a timetable, it seems like, on different issues. And these are very complicated matters where years of conflict and years of mistrust are being resolved by some basic truths. And one of the basic truths is free societies are peaceful societies. And so we can look forward to working with a partner in peace, a person who said, "Vote for me. I'm for peace," and a man who declares his understanding that the Palestinian people, the long-suffering Palestinian people, will be well served by a democracy, a truly functioning democracy.
And so, Mr. President, we're glad you're back. I want to thank you for your strong leadership, and we wish you all the very best. Thank you, sir. Appreciate you.
NOTE: The President's news conference began at 10:57 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, USA, Senior U.S. Security Coordinator, Department of State; James D. Wolfensohn, Quartet Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement; and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. President Abbas and some reporters spoke in Arabic, and their remarks were translated by an interpreter.
George W. Bush, The President's News Conference With President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/217269