Bush To Reaffirm Commitment To Mideast Peace, Discuss Aid To Palestinians

Sunday, July 15th 2007, 2:51 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush is set to renew his commitment to Mideast peace and announce new aid to help the embattled Palestinian president create a viable state that can exist with Israel, administration officials said Sunday.

Bush, taking on a more personal, high-profile role in the conflict, planned to speak Monday at the White House about U.S. financial and diplomatic support for President Mahmoud Abbas. He controls just the West Bank after the Islamic militant group Hamas gained authority in Gaza in June.

``The president sees there is an opportunity there now to show the Palestinian people a choice between the kind of violence and chaos under Hamas in Gaza and the prospect, under President Abbas and Prime Minister (Salem) Fayyad, for an effective, democratic Palestinian state that can be on the way toward what we all want, which is a two-state solution _ a Palestinian homeland for the Palestinian people,'' Bush's national security adviser said.

Stephen Hadley did not elaborate about the type of financial assistance Bush planned to discuss. But a senior administration official said Hadley was signaling that the president would announce aid above the $86 million that the White House already has requested from Congress. That money was to help provide security for Abbas.

The administration also has said that it would contribute $40 million to the United Nations to help the Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip now controlled by Hamas.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Bush had not made the announcement.

The nearly 3 million Palestinians essentially have two governments _ one controlled by Hamas in Gaza, the other by Abbas in the West Bank.

Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction and is regarded a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. Abbas' more moderate Fatah movement seeks peace with the Jewish state.

Abbas, who planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday, consolidated his control of the West Bank on Saturday and installed a government of moderates, led by Fayyad.

Hamas said Abbas' move was unconstitutional and the group pledged to challenge the new government. Israel and the U.S. moved quickly to back Abbas.

Bush is ``going to talk about what we can do to support President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad in their efforts to build now a democratic and effective Palestinian state,'' Hadley said. ``He will have some ideas to suggest about what we are going to do to support them financially, diplomatically.''

The timing of Bush's remarks reflects Fayyad's move from a temporary position into a more permanent role, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. ``This is the time to demonstrate increased support for this effort and to get the international community more engaged in this process as well,'' Johndroe said.

Five years ago, Bush called for a separate, independent Palestine alongside Israel. He was the first U.S. president to back that notion so fully and publicly. But his administration has taken heavy criticism for letting the peace process drift while conditions worsened for the impoverished Palestinians.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Sunday that the administration has not done enough.

``They've had a hands-off attitude for many, many years now. And at a critical juncture, when Abbas was just taking over, when there was an opportunity to really support him, the administration was not doing that,'' Reed said.

After losing Gaza in a swift, five-day Hamas assault on his forces, Abbas moved quickly to cement his rule in the West Bank. He replaced the prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, with Fayyad, a U.S.-educated, internationally respected economist.

Some in the United States and in Europe have advocated a policy dubbed the ``West Bank first'' in which Abbas and the West Bank would stand as an example of what a future Palestinian state could be. Critics on the other side say that leaves Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip without international aid. Europeans oppose this idea, and others worry it would leave the Gaza Strip open to funding and influence from Iran and Syria.

International negotiators trying to bring peace to the Mideast plan to meet Thursday in Portugal. The group, which is expected to include Rice, will confer with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the first time in his new role promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who also will attend the meeting, is increasingly concerned about the economic impact for Gaza. Ban, who is meeting with Bush at the White House on Tuesday, called for the opening of all crossings to allow humanitarian supplies and workers and commercial goods to enter the territory.

Hadley appeared on ``This Week'' on ABC. Reed spoke on CNN's ``Late Edition.''