Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Bush cocky on Middle East peace

NEW FOCUS Despite intractable differences that have prevented peace for decades, the US president thinks he'll get the job done in the next four years

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM

US President George W. Bush said he was sure he would bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians during his second term in office, in an interview published in an Israeli newspaper yesterday.

"I want you to know that I am going to invest a lot of time and a lot of creative thinking so that there will finally be peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Bush told the leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth.

"I am convinced that, during this term, I will manage to bring peace," he said in remarks published in Hebrew.

Bush backs Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to "disengage" from four years' conflict with the Palestinians by quitting the Gaza Strip and some of the West Bank next year.

Washington has also voiced hope that Palestinian elections on Jan. 9 will produce a moderate leadership to succeed Yasser Arafat, whom it had sidelined as an obstacle to peace.

"Next year is very important, as it will bring peace. Sharon understood this. It is very important that the Palestinians also understand that peace is not something that is arrived at through words, but through deeds," Bush said.

The US has urged Palestinians to curb militants as an obligation to a "road map" peace plan, but Palestinians complain their security forces have been crippled by Israeli raids while Israel has failed to meet its own obligations.

Mahmoud Abbas, the frontrunner in next month's election, has won plaudits by coming out against armed militant attacks and pledging to enact reform in Palestinian institutions.

"I have a basis for believing the new Palestinian leadership ... is also working in the right direction," Bush said.

But he was less upbeat on recent proposals by Syrian President Bashar Assad to resume peace talks with Israel that stalled in 2000. Sharon has been cool to the overtures, demanding Syria first crack down on militant groups sworn to the Jewish state's destruction and sheltered by Damascus.

"Syria is a very weak country, and therefore it cannot be trusted. For now, Assad should wait; first peace between Israel and Palestine, and then we will see what should be done with Syria," Bush told Yedioth.

Meanwhile, representatives of Israel's ruling Likud and the opposition Labor party early yesterday worked out the main features of a program for a government of national unity which could be signed as early as yesterday.

Negotiators from the center-left Labor and Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud applied the finishing touches to the confirmed coalition deal, with just about everything worked out except the prerogatives of Labor leader Shimon Peres, who will take the new post of deputy prime minister at the premier's office.

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