President Bush says if the Palestinian people want peace, they must choose a leader who renounces terror.
The president has made no secret of his thoughts on Yasser Arafat. But his words during a joint news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah were unusually strong.
"Mr. Arafat has failed as a leader," said Mr. Bush.
He said Yasser Arafat undercut efforts by former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to move the peace process forward. Mr. Bush made clear he believes the Palestinians now have a choice to make: pick a new leader or give up the dream of their own independent state.
"The people of the Palestinian territory must understand if they want peace, they must have leadership who is absolutely, 100 percent committed to fighting off terror," Mr. Bush said.
The president spoke of progress in the peace process in the weeks immediately following talks in June in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba. President Bush, Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took part in the discussions, which were designed to promote a new international peace plan called the "road map."
But recent days have brought a return to violence and uncertainty. Mr. Abbas quit and Israeli leaders talked of removing Yasser Arafat, causing an uproar in the Palestinian territories. King Abdullah said all sides now need to focus on the big picture, and get the peace process back on track.
"We're talking now about the principle of getting the movement forward again, and Israelis and Palestinians engaging positively in the right direction," said King Abdullah.
President Bush said he, for one, remains committed to the road map and its goal of two states living side-by-side in peace. But he stressed ending terrorism must be the first step.
"Hopefully, at some point in time, a leadership of the Palestinian Authority will emerge which will then commit itself 100 percent to fighting off terror," he said.
Mr. Bush said when that happens, the world will come together to "create the conditions for hope."
"The world will come together to help an economy grow so they can have a better future," he said. "But the first thing that must happen is an absolute condemnation and defeat of those forces who kill innocent people in order to stop a peace process from going forward."
The joint press conference was held during a break in talks at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the mountains outside Washington. President Bush and King Abdullah originally planned to meet at the rustic retreat on Friday, but they went up a day early to get in place before Hurricane Isabel hit the region.