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George W. Bush Administration:
News Conferences & Interviews on the Middle East/Israel

(2001)


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FEBRUARY 9, 2001

Middle East

Q. What did you say to Mr. Arafat?

The President. Oh, I had a good talk with Mr. Arafat. I’ve also had talks with other leaders throughout the region, and I urged calm. I said it was very important to give the newly elected leader of Israel a chance, a chance to form a government and a chance to do what he said he wanted to do, which is to promote the peace in the region. And I certainly hope that people recognize that change does not necessarily mean that the peace process won’t go forward.

I think we ought to take Mr. Sharon for his word, and that is, he wants to promote peace in the Middle East. I look forward to watching him put a government together and then fulfilling what he said he would do.

Q. Are you concerned about the violence yesterday, the bombings?

The President. I’m concerned about all kinds of violence. But I firmly believe that the best policy is to encourage leaders to just remain resolute in their willingness to promote the peace and give the Sharon government a chance to form a government and then to be able to do what he said he wanted to do, which is to promote peace in the Middle East.

MARCH 29, 2001

The President. Good morning. I first want to say how pleased I am that the House yesterday passed on a realistic, commonsense budget to the Senate. I appreciated the vote. They did the right thing. It’s a budget that meets our Nation’s priorities. It’s also a budget that leaves ample room for meaningful, real, long-lasting tax relief. I look forward to working with the Senate to get a budget passed.

I’m also deeply concerned about the escalating violence in the Middle East. It is claiming the lives of innocent civilians on both sides. The tragic cycle of incitement, provocation, and violence has gone on far too long. Both sides must take important steps to calm the situation now.

The Palestinian Authority should speak out publicly and forcibly, in a language that the Palestinian people—to condemn violence and terrorism. It should arrest those who perpetrated the terrorist acts. It should resume security cooperation with Israel.

The Government of Israel, for its part, should exercise restraint in its military response. It should take steps to restore normalcy to the lives of the Palestinian people by easing closures and removing checkpoints. Last week Prime Minister Sharon assured me that his government wants to move in this direction, and I urge Israel to do so.

I’ll be meeting with Egypt’s President Mubarak next Monday and Jordan’s King Abdullah the week after, to seek their help in defusing the tensions. Egypt and Jordan are two of our most important partners in the region, and their role is crucial.

I’ve asked Secretary Powell to call Chairman Arafat today and contact other leaders to urge them to stand against violence. Our diplomats in the region are fully engaged in this effort.

Our goal is to encourage a series of reciprocal and parallel steps by both sides that will halt the escalation of violence, provide safety and security for civilians on both sides, and restore normalcy to the lives of everyone in the region. A lasting peace in the region will come only when the parties agree directly on its terms.

This week I vetoed an unbalanced U.N. resolution, because it tried to force the adoption of a mechanism on which both parties did not agree. My approach will be to facilitate the parties’ work in finding their own solution to peace. We seek to build a stable foundation for restoring confidence, rebuilding security cooperation, and resuming a political dialog between the parties.

AUGUST 13, 2001

Terrorist Attack in Israel

The President. About time you learned something.

On Israel, the Palestinians--we will never get to Mitchell until the leadership works to reduce and stop violence. These terrorist acts, which are despicable, will prevent us from ever getting into the Mitchell process.

My administration has been calling upon all the leaders in the Middle East to do everything they can to stop the violence, to tell the different parties involved that peace will never happen, and so long as terrorist activities continue, it will be impossible to get into Mitchell or any other discussion about peace under the threat of terrorism. Secretary Powell was in touch with Mr. Arafat and Mr. Sharon; we delivered that message consistently.

Q. What more do you think you can do?

The President. Well, Europe and moderate Arab nations must join with us to continue to send a consistent message that there will be no peace unless we break this cycle of violence. And the United States is doing everything in our power to convince the parties, but I want to remind people there must be the will. The people in the area must make the conscious decision to stop terrorism. And we're going to continue----

Q. But can the Israelis continue to show moderate restraint or----

The President. I appreciate the fact that they do show a moderate restraint. Sometimes they haven't, and sometimes they have. But what's important is that we say to all the parties that if there's a desire for peace--or at least a discussion of peace or the desire to get in Mitchell, the first thing that must happen is--is that we must stop violence.

Q. But do you have confidence in Arafat that he can stop the terrorist acts?

The President. I think he can do a lot more to be convincing the people on the street to stop these acts of terrorism and the acts of violence. I said in the Oval Office it is very important for Mr. Arafat to show a 100-percent effort, to do everything he can to convince the different parties on the West Bank and in Gaza to stop the violence. And we recognize that there could be isolated incidents of terror, but these--this is a continuing terrorist campaign, and we've got to stop. I will invite the respective parties to come and see me at the appropriate time.

Q. Sir, what about your response to people who say that your administration isn't doing enough to stop the escalation of violence there?

The President. We have been engaged in the Middle East ever since I got sworn in. Ours is the administration that sent George Tenet to the Middle East to lay out a platform for discussions amongst security forces to bring peace to the region. We wholeheartedly endorse the Mitchell report. We have spent, on a near daily basis, talking to the different parties, urging them--because there's nothing that an administration can do if there's no will for peace.

And we're obviously working with the leaders to try to convince them to take the necessary steps to send a signal to the people on the streets that peace--we want peace. We want at least discussions towards peace, if not in a final agreement.

We've got a long way to go, I recognize that. And it's so important for there to be the will, the desire. It requires two parties to make the conscious decision that we're going to do everything we can to stop terrorism, and our administration and my Government is working hard to send that message. We're on the phone almost on a daily basis to the respective parties.

Q. Do you see the will on either side, sir?

The President. Well, sometimes we see the will on the other side, and sometimes that cycle overcomes the will. There's a lot of people in the Middle East who are desirous to get into the Mitchell process, but first things first. These terrorist acts and the responses have got to end in order for us to get the framework--the groundwork, not framework--the groundwork to discuss a framework, to lay the--all right.

Q. Have you made any calls yourself, sir?

The President. I've made a lot of calls over--you mean the last couple of days? No, I haven't, not over the last couple of days. Secretary Powell did--I'm, of course, very aware of how the conversations went.

AUGUST 14, 2001

Situation in the Middle East

Q. Mr. President, I've got a Mideast question for you. The Israeli tanks moved into a Palestinian city, the furthest incursion yet. Any new reaction to that?

The President. I have no new reaction. My only point is--and I'm going to continue to make the point and so is my administration--that the cycle of violence has got to end in order for the peace process, or any peace process, to begin.

And therefore, Mr. Arafat must clamp down on the suicide bombers and on the violence. And the Israelis must show restraint. We've got to break the cycle. In order for there to be any discussions about world peace, it requires a willingness of both sides to come to the table. And my administration continues to talk to both sides, and we will continue to work to try to bring a sense of--a desire, a sense of purpose on the partners there in the Middle East to sit down and, one, reject the violence and start meaningful discussions about how to reach an accord. It's essential that the violence stops.

Q. Sounds like a strongly held feeling.

The President. Well, I feel very strongly about it because I'm worried about the cycle of violence continuing to escalate. And it's not good for our--it's not good for that part of the world, nor is it good for the rest of the world, that the Middle East be a place of violence.

We've been making good progress in Macedonia, it looks like, so that part of the world is beginning to calm down a little bit.

The Middle East is a cauldron of violence, and we've got to--and we will continue to be very much involved in insisting that both parties break the cycle.

AUGUST 15, 2001

Situation in the Middle East

Q. One question about the Middle East, sir. Do you believe that they are on the brink of war there? And have you come to believe that it's no longer realistic - -

The President. [Inaudible] - the violence in the Middle East, but I'm confident that the leadership there will understand that war is avoidable and will work to bring peace. The parties must - must - make up their mind that peace is preferable to war. The suicide bombings have increased; there's too many of them. And Mr. Arafat must do everything in his power to discourage the suicide bombers. And the Israelis must be restrained in their response.

There's too much violence in the Middle East, but I'm confident that we can avoid war so long as the leadership makes the concerted effort to do so. My administration is constantly in touch with the parties. I spoke to Secretary Powell this morning. We're working with the appropriate folks. The Egyptians are in town. Not only are we talking to the Palestinians and the Israelis, we're talking to other nations in the neighborhood to encourage them to convince Mr. Arafat to do everything he can to prevent and stop suicide bombings and needless violence.

AUGUST 24, 2001

United Nations Conference on Racism

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned thinking long and hard about these nominations. I hope to ask you about another long deliberation.

The United Nations Conference on Racism convenes in just one week. Do you want your administration represented there? If so, at what level? And are the Zionism and reparations agenda items absolutely prohibitive to any U.S. participation?

The President. She is referring to a conference that will be taking place in South Africa. We have made it very clear, through Colin Powell's office, that we will have no representative there, so long as they pick on Israel, so long as they continue to say Zionism is racism. If they use the forum as a way to isolate our friend and strong ally, we will not participate.

The Secretary of State is working hard to resolve that issue. We have made it very clear from the get-go - I remember explaining to President Mbeki our position. As I understand, the reparations issue has been solved. At least, the last information I had was that that issue looks like it's been resolved.

But the fundamental question is whether or not Israel will be treated with respect at the conference. And if not, then we will assess prior to the beginning. So I am not exactly sure where we stand at this moment.

I do know what our administration's position is. And the position is, we will not participate in a conference that tries to isolate Israel and denigrates Israel.

Q. Participate at any level?

The President. That's my feeling.

Yes. Situation in the Middle East

Q. Mr. President, on Israel, as well, following up on that, today the Israelis pushed farther into Palestinian territory, attacking two houses in Hebron. So far the peace talks that were agreed to between Peres and Arafat haven't happened.

I know you say that the U.S. is engaged, but Egyptians, Palestinians are calling for more U.S. involvement. What is it going to take for the U.S. to actually get more involved, take more action in order to help bring about peace in the Middle East?

The President. Well, let's start with this: In order for there to be any peace talks in the Middle East, the first thing that must happen is that both parties must resolve to stop violence. The Israelis have made it very clear that they will not negotiate under terrorist threat. And if Mr. Arafat is interested in having a dialog that could conceivably lead to the Mitchell process, then I strongly urge him to urge the terrorists, the Palestinian terrorists, to stop the suicide bombings, to stop the incursions, to stop the threats.

At the same time, we have worked very closely with Prime Minister Sharon to urge him to show restraint. Terrorism is prevalent now in the Middle East, and the first thing that all parties who are concerned about peace in the Middle East must do is work to stop the terrorist activities.

The Israelis will not negotiate under terrorist threat, simple as that. And if the Palestinians are interested in a dialog, then I strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put 100 percent effort into solving the terrorist activity, into stopping the terrorist activity. And I believe he can do a better job of doing that.

Go ahead.

Q. What's your reaction to the fact that the Israelis are moving into Palestinian territory again?

The President. My reaction is, is that I would hope the Israelis would show restraint on all fronts. And we continue to urge restraint with both parties; we are constantly in dialog.

But it requires two willing participants. People have got to make up their mind this is what they want to have happen in order for the beginning of peace discussions. We've got a framework for a peaceful resolution. It's called the Mitchell plan. And our administration, as has most of the world, embraced the Mitchell plan. But in order to get to Mitchell requires there to be a cessation of terrorist activity. If not a cessation, 100 percent effort to get to a cessation, and we haven't seen that 100 percent effort yet.

And if what you're asking is, do we hear the Palestinians call for discussions? Of course we do. But my attitude is, if they are that interested in peaceful dialog, they ought to do everything they can to stop the terrorist activity that has accelerated in recent months. And we will see whether or not the will is there.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2001

Middle East Cease-Fire

Q. Do you think the Middle East cease-fire will hold? And what do you think the next step should be for both the Israelis and the Palestinians?

President Bush. We've had very positive developments in the Middle East today, and it's one of the subjects that my friend and I will discuss. I was very pleased by the statements by Chairman Arafat, followed by the strong statements by the Israelis that they would stand down troops.

And I hope in my heart of hearts that out of this evil comes good. I think it will; I'm a very optimistic person. And one of the goods that can come is that people involved with the Middle East conflict, that both leaders here want to resolve, realize that a terrorist way of life is not going to lead to a peaceful resolution for people.

The next step, of course, is to stay involved in the region, is to work with both the Palestinians and the Israelis to encourage them to seize the moment, to hold Mr. Arafat to his word that he will fight violence, and to encourage the Israelis to sit down and have meaningful dialog, with the attempt to get into the Mitchell process. And it's a glimmer of hope that all of us hope that the parties involved will seize.

OCTOBER 2, 2001

Situation in the Middle East

Q. Are you prepared, sir, to recognize a Palestinian state as a part of a broader Middle East peace process, itself?

The President. The idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of a vision, so long as the right to Israel to exist is respected.

But first things first, when it comes to the Middle East, and we've got to get to Mitchell, the Mitchell accord. Senator Mitchell put together a viable blueprint that most of the world agrees with as the necessary path to ultimately solving the problems of the Middle East. And we are working diligently with both sides to encourage the reduction of violence so that meaningful discussions can take place.

Q. Mr. President, to follow up on the Middle East, sir. Were you prepared to support the idea of a Palestinian state before the United Nations conference that was canceled?

The President. Oh, I read all kinds of speculation about what this administration was or was not going to do. What I'm telling you is, is that we are fully committed to the Mitchell process. And we are fully committed to working with both sides to bring the level of terror down to an acceptable level for both. And I fully understand that progress is made in centimeters in the Middle East. And we believe we're making some progress.

DECEMBER 4, 2001

Terrorist Attacks in Israel

Q. The second one is a question. What are we doing right now to assist our allies in Israel during their time of terrorist attacks?

The President. Yes. The question is about Israel. I had the Prime Minister of Israel in my office on Sunday. He was coming Monday but decided to come sooner because of the attacks. And I commiserated with him, because a lot of innocent people had been killed or hurt as a result of terrorist activity.

The terrorist attacks on Israel - first of all, Israel has got no better friend than the United States, as far as I'm concerned. Israel is a democracy. We share a lot of values with Israel. I have a dream; I can't think of anything better than to have a dream for peace for Israel. I think the Israeli people want to have peace.

But we learned in such a vivid way that there are elements in the Middle East that hate the thought of peace and will be willing to use terror to derail any type of peace process. And so the spotlight now flashes on the Middle East in a terrible way, obviously. But it also reminds people around the world that if we want peace, that it's important for those advocates of peace to help rout out terror and to bring it to justice. It is incumbent upon Mr. Arafat now to respond forcefully, to rout out those who killed. It's incumbent upon other friends and allies of ours around the world to help bring those terrorists to justice if we want peace in the Middle East, which I do - which I do. We've got to bring the terrorists to justice.

We cannot let a few - we cannot let a few prevent the many from achieving a dream which is lasting peace in the Middle East. I hope that happens. I hope it happens for the sake of Israel. I hope it happens for the sake of the Palestinians, who suffer because of the lack of job opportunity and killing and war. I hope it happens. But first things first. We must rid the world of terror.

DECEMBER 5, 2001

Palestine Liberation Organization

Q. Has the PLO been harboring terrorists? If so, should they be treated like the Taliban?

President Bush. The PLO, Ron, needs to stand up and rout out those killers, those murderers who are preventing us from getting a peace process in place. My Nation is committed to peace in the Middle East. Norway is committed to peace in the Middle East. But there are obviously folks who want to use the weapon of terror to derail peace. And Mr. Arafat must show leadership and bring those to justice who would use murder as a weapon to derail peace and to destroy innocent life. He must show leadership. Now is his time. And other nations around the world that are interested in peace must encourage Mr. Arafat, must insist that Mr. Arafat use everything in his power to prevent further terrorist attacks in Israel.

DECEMBER 14, 2001

Anybody care to talk to the Prime Minister? Situation in the Middle East

Q. I'll ask one. Mr. President, do you see any signs of hope or progress in stopping the killing in the Middle East? And do you believe that Israel has been justified in its retaliatory actions against the Palestinian leadership and in the Prime Minister's decision to cut off contacts with Chairman Arafat?

The President. First, let me talk about Chairman Arafat. Chairman Arafat has said that he intends to fight terror and to bring those to justice who are killing - murderers - in the Middle East, and now is his time to perform. The world expects Chairman Arafat to lead, and so do I. And I will continue to work with our friends and allies to make it - to talk to Mr. Arafat in very blunt terms.

And that is, if you want to achieve the Mitchell - if you want to get in the Mitchell process, if you want there to be a peace, you must do everything in your power; you must use your security forces to bring to justice those who murder to keep peace from happening.

The world has now seen that there are killers and murderers around the world and in the Middle East that are not interested in peace. Our Government strongly desires peace. We have sent emissaries throughout my administration to work to get a secure enough environment to get into the Mitchell process. We still have a man in place, General Zinni, working to get there to be some kind of security arrangements so we could possibly get into Mitchell. But so long as there's killers and people who would derail the peace process by murdering others, it's going to be very difficult to do.

I will continue to make peace in the Middle East a priority, and it starts with routing out terror wherever it exists.


Sources: The White House

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