Middle East Reporters Question Bush on Israel, Palestine, and His Middle East Record

President Bush, scheduled to depart this evening on a trip to the Middle East, conducted interviews with three Middle East TV stations at the White House today and held a roundtable discussion with Israeli print media.

Bush was interviewed by Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV yesterday (transcript). Today, Egypt's Dream TV (transcript), Israel's Channel 10 TV (transcript), and BBC Arabic (transcript) each interviewed the president.

Bush answered questions on his daughter's wedding, Egypt's 60th anniversary, Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah, and the war on terror. Many of the questions centered on Palestine.

The president told reporters he is optimistic about negotiating preliminary agreements on Palestinian statehood before the end of his term.

"I think we can, I really do," Bush told BBC Arabic when asked about a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. "We're going to work hard for that end. Look, it's hard, I understand that." Bush forwarded the "two-state solution" in 2002, advocating an independent Palestine that would exist side by side with Israel.

Bush said he will focus on negotiating Palestine's prospective borders. An agreement on borders, Bush said, would serve as a road map for future negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

"It will be a description of the state," he told BBC Arabic. "Step one is description. And the state can't look like Swiss cheese; it has to be contiguous territories with defined borders."

Israel's Channel 10 TV pressed Bush on his involvement in Israel and Palestine during his term. "Mr. President, it took, like, seven years before you got involved in the Middle East," a Channel 10 reporter said during the interview.

Bush said that was not accurate, and that he had inherited a Palestinian rebellion at the start of his term, making it difficult to initiate peace talks.

"Look, I inherited--when I came into office, there was an intifada [Palestinian uprising]. It's hard in the middle of an intifada to be talking peace," Bush said.

The second Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000 after then-Likud Party leader, soon-to-be Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited a disputed territory, referred to by Israelis as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. As Palestinians protested, fighting soon broke out between protesters and Israeli troops, and the protracted conflict was underway. Conflict calmed as bombings became less frequent in 2005, but according to Jon Alterman, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East program, the intifada never officially ended.

Dream TV's Mona Shazli asked Bush if celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding might overlook the pain it caused Palestinians. Bush responded that he recognizes the agony and pain on both sides of the dispute; see the exchange below.

Q It's a matter of hours, and you will be in Tel Aviv, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel. This celebration might be perceived by Palestinians and Arabs like -- it is criticized, because it's ignoring the flip side, which is the 60 years of agony, pain and struggle in the area, in the region. What would you tell Palestinians and Arab concerning this?


THE PRESIDENT: Well, I am going to talk to the Palestinians face to face when I come to Sharm, Sharm el Sheikh. And I will say that there's been 60 years of struggling on both sides, and it's time that the struggle has got to end. And now is the time for the development of a Palestinian state that has got defined borders, that doesn't look like Swiss cheese; in other words, it's contiguous territory, where the refugee issue is dealt with. And that's what my message is, is that I'm going to -- I fully recognize the agony and pain that have been lived by everybody in the region, and that here's one way forward. And it's a -- we will continue to work, and hopefully by the end of my presidency, we'll get the definition of a state. And so I'll talk to President Mubarak about how we can work together.



BBC Arabic also asked Bush about Palestinians' views of the anniversary. Bush said he cares deeply about the Palestinian people, and that they need a clear vision on defined borders, refugees, holy sites, and security. See that exchange below.

Q We are going to the Palestinian and Israel issue, and we know that you are going there to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, and you are the President who put the idea of the two-state solution. There are the other sayer in the Palestinian side. They call this anniversary as "Nakba", or disaster. What do you say to them, Mr. President?


THE PRESIDENT: I say to them that I care deeply about the Palestinian people and their future. They're going to have a choice to make, hopefully, and that choice is, here's what a state is going to look like, or do you want the kind of state that Hamas has brought you? There needs to be a vision that people can see, that's clearly spelled out, with defined borders, and the refugee issue settled; something on how to move forward on the holy sites; security discussions. Those discussions are ongoing right now, and our job in the United States, it seems like to me, is to encourage the parties to come and reach a common solution, so that they can then say, the world can say, here's what a state will look like; and now you suffering Palestinians have a choice to make: you can accept that, or you can continue to follow, or accept in your presence these extremists who murder innocent people.



Bush is scheduled to depart for the Middle East this evening. He is scheduled to return Sunday, May 18, and will visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. He is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian Authority.