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George W. Bush Administration: Remarks on Israel's Operation Cast Lead

(January 12, 2009)

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Do you believe that the Gaza conflict will have ended by the time you leave office? Do you approve of the way that Israel has conducted it? And why were you unable to achieve the peace deal that you had sought?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope so. I'm for a sustainable cease-fire. And a definition of a sustainable cease-fire is that Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel. And there will not be a sustainable cease-fire if they continue firing rockets. I happen to believe the choice is Hamas's to make. And we believe that the best way to ensure that there is a sustainable cease-fire is to work with Egypt to stop the smuggling of arms into the Gaza that enables Hamas to continue to fire rockets. And so countries that supply weapons to Hamas have got to stop. And the international community needs to continue to pressure them to stop providing weapons.

Hamas, obviously, if they're interested in a sustainable cease-fire, needs to stop arming. And then, of course, countries contingent to the Gaza need to work to stop the smuggling. And it's a difficult -- difficult task. I mean, there's tunnels and, you know, great opportunities for people who want to continue to try to disrupt democracy to provide the weapons to do so.

Second part of your question, please, ma'am?

Q Do you approve of the Israeli conduct in this?

THE PRESIDENT: I think Israel has a right to defend herself. Obviously in any of these kinds of situations, I would hope that she would continue to be mindful of innocent folks, and that they help, you know, expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid.

And third, why haven't we achieved peace? That's a good question. It's been a long time since they've had peace in the Middle East. Step one is to have a vision for what peace would look like. And in 2002, on the steps of the Rose Garden, I gave a speech about a two-state solution -- two states, two democracies living side by side in peace. And we have worked hard to advance that idea. First thing is to convince all parties that the two states were necessary for peace.

And one thing that's happened is, is that most people in the Middle East now accept the two-state solution as the best way for peace. Most Palestinians want their own state, and most Israelis understand there needs to be a democracy on their border in order for there to be long-lasting peace.

The challenge, of course, has been to lay out the conditions so that a peaceful state can emerge -- in other words, helping the Palestinians in the West Bank develop security forces, which we have worked hard to do over the past years. And those security forces are now becoming more efficient, and Prime Minister Fayyad is using them effectively. The challenge is to develop -- help the Palestinians develop a democracy -- I mean, and a vibrant economy in their -- that will help lead to democracy.

And the challenge, of course, is always complicated by the fact that people are willing to murder to stop the advance of freedom. And so the -- Hamas, or for that matter Al-Qaeda, or other extremist groups, are willing to use violence to prevent free states from emerging. And that's the big challenge.

And so the answer is -- will this ever happen? I think it will. And I know we have advanced the process.

Sources: The White House