For the first time since he took office, President Bush yesterday stood shoulder to shoulder with a Palestinian Authority president in the White House Rose Garden, praising the leader's efforts to end violence and urging all Arab states to back the Middle East peace process with financial aid.
Mr. Bush, who repeatedly shunned Yasser Arafat, pledged to his successor a direct grant of $50 million to help Palestinians improve their housing, schools and highway system. But he said Palestinian Authority President &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/world/2001/09/07/14459.html ' target=_blank>Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have serious responsibilities to fulfill under the U.S.-backed "road map" to Middle East peace, informs VOA News.
Abbas is seen by White House officials as a leader they can work with, unlike the late Yasser Arafat. The last time the head of the Palestinian Authority was in the Oval Office was in January 2001, when Arafat saw former President Clinton just days before Bush took office and closed the White House to Arafat. Abbas first came to the White House to meet Bush in 2003, when he was Arafat's prime minister.
Bush said the United States would help to reconstitute the Palestinian security forces and he announced that the United States would give $50 million to the Palestinians to help with housing and infrastructure projects in Gaza. The money would be timed to Israel's summer withdraw from the territory it captured from Egypt in 1967.
The money is part of a $150 million request Bush is requesting from Congress in addition to the $275 million it approved this year. The vast majority of U.S. aid to the Palestinians has been channeled through other groups, and just $40 million has gone directly to the authority over the past two years. The additional funds would go directly to the Palestinian Authority if approved by Congress.
In the Oval Office, Abbas showed Bush maps of Israel's continued expansion of &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/world/2002/10/09/37939.html ' target=_blank>Jewish settlements in the West Bank to demonstrate the threat it poses to Palestinians' hopes for a viable state. He also touted the reforms he has made in his government and security forces and the truce — albeit informal and shaky — he secured between militant groups and Israel.
However, the meeting is a delicate balancing act for Bush.