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Israelis, Palestinians Downplay Expectations from White House Summit


Expectations are low in the Middle East following a White House Summit between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, last week's Palestinian civil war in the Gaza Strip has dashed hopes of reviving the peace process.

Briefing reporters after his meeting with President Bush, Prime Minister Olmert said he wants to work with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on providing the Palestinians a chance for a state of their own, alongside Israel. But Israelis and Palestinians are skeptical about the prospects. Here is what one Israeli in Jerusalem had to say.

"Unfortunately, I think it's hopeless. I don't think that something can make better the situation here," he said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert agreed to throw their support to Mr. Abbas of the Fatah party who heads a moderate government in the West Bank. But after Fatah forces were routed from Gaza by the rival Islamic militant group Hamas, many Israelis believe the radicals have been strengthened.

"I'm not sure how much can come out of it only because there are fundamentalist forces in the Gaza that are very hard to deal with," said another Israeli resident.

Many Palestinians believe Mr. Olmert's peace moves are too little too late. Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti says Israel did everything it could to torpedo a national unity government formed by Fatah and Hamas in March.

"Unfortunately what we have seen during the last three months is that Israel determines the policy, not only of the United States, but of the international community," he said. "Otherwise, the embargo on the Palestinian national unity government would not have continued. Otherwise, they would have given a chance for an inclusive, real peace process that starts with [a] cease-fire and ends with ending occupation, but I don't see that happening."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused the U.S. and Israel of conspiring against the legitimate Palestinian government in Gaza.

"Bush and Olmert, all the time they want to make full support to President Abbas and Palestinian Authority in order to destroy Hamas, in order to destroy our resistance in Gaza," he said.

Although Prime Minister Olmert said in Washington that he wants to improve the quality of life for Palestinians, he did not make a commitment to revive talks that aim to establish an independent Palestinian state. Those talks collapsed seven years ago. Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert are expected to meet soon, although a date has not been confirmed.

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