President Bush will meet Wednesday at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports, they will review progress in the Middle East peace process.
This will be their second round of talks in less than one month, following Mr. Bush's trip to Israel in May for ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the nation's founding.
Presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino says the informal discussions at the White House will focus on the peace process.
She says the administration is doing all it can to get a Palestinian state defined before the end of the year, noting the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are keeping in close touch with all the parties involved."We continue to be engaged to try to help them, but we are not going to be able to solve the problem for them," said Dana Perino. "They are going to have to continue to work together."
She says the process is long and difficult, but stresses the two sides are not giving up.
"And we know that their governments are talking to one another - the Palestinians and the Israelis," she said. "But there is a lot of tension, a lot of historical complexities that enter into this. But I believe that the president will see from Prime Minister Olmert that they continue to negotiate in good faith. And this president is going to push them, because the Israelis and the Palestinians both have to live up to their 'roadmap' obligations, if we are going to reach the goal of defining a state by the end of the year."
Perino says the Israelis have security concerns and the Palestinians are worried about announcements of new settlement activity.
Israel said Sunday that it plans to build almost 900 new housing units in disputed East Jerusalem, a move that prompted sharp criticism from the Palestinian leadership.
Just prior to his departure for Washington Prime Minister Olmert discussed housing and other issues in Jerusalem with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
President Abbas told reporters it will be difficult to reach a peace agreement if the building does not stop.
At the White House, Dana Perino agreed that settlement activity is a big problem."Our position on the settlements is that we don't believe that any more settlements should be built, and we know that that exacerbates the tension when it comes to the negotiations with the Palestinians," said Dana Perino.
During a session with reporters, Perino was also asked about the Israeli leader's political troubles and the impact that could have on the peace process.
"As far as I know the Israelis and the Palestinians have continued to have talks in good faith while all this discussion in the press has gone on in Israel," she said.
Prime Minister Olmert is at the center of an evolving corruption investigation involving alleged cash payments from an American Jewish businessman.
Perino refuses to say if it would be discussed during the prime minister's private talks with President Bush. But she also notes that Mr. Bush has long said the Israeli and Palestinian people have set a goal, and the peace process is bigger than just one person.