President Bush says the idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of the Middle East peace process. But he says discussions of this issue can only occur in tandem with respect for Israel's right to exist.
The President says he envisions a day when Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace within their own borders. "You know, the idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a vision so long as the right to Israel to exist is respected," the president said.
But he says this is an issue for the future and the focus now should be on reviving the peace process and ending the violence. "We are working diligently with both sides to encourage a reduction of violence so that meaningful discussions can take place," Mr. Bush said. The comments followed news reports that the Bush administration was planning a major Middle East peace initiative before the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The President evaded questions about the reports. But his spokesman indicated there might be some truth to the news stories.
Ari Fleischer was asked if the President's comments on a Palestinian state were designed to win Arab support for the war on terrorism.
"If you believe what you read this morning, all those stories pointed out that this was in place prior to September 11," the spokesman said. "So I think that deals with the question of linkage."
Mr. Fleischer stressed that the President sees the creation of a Palestinian state in the context of a negotiated settlement. He said Mr. Bush's statements are consistent with U.S. policy.
"Peace in the Middle East is measured in centimeters. And the first step has got to be an end to the violence, a cease-fire, a follow-on to the Mitchell Committee recommendations on security, which lead to political talks," he said. " And at the end of the political talks, the vision does include a Palestinian state."
President Bush has been publicly urging the Israelis and Palestinians in recent days to move the peace process forward. He has said in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on America there is an opportunity for progress.