Israel Insider

President George W. Bush says the Palestinians should follow through on Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza by establishing a peaceful government in the area as a starting point toward coexistence with the Jewish state.

“The world must hear that now,” Bush told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday at the start of one of only two meetings the president held between U.N. sessions marking the organization’s 60th birthday. The other was with staunch U.S. ally Tony Blair, the prime minister of Britain.

For Israel, it is a rare respite in a setting where the Jewish state routinely is criticized. “I am inspired by your courageous decision to give peace a chance,” Bush told Sharon. “I know it was hard to do.”

Turning to the Palestinian role, Bush said, “We condemned the desecrating of synagogues in Gaza that followed Israel’s withdrawal.”

“One thing is essential,” he said. “And the world must hear, that now is the time for Palestinians to come together and establish a government that will be peaceful with Israel.”

“Gaza is a good chance to start,” Bush said. “I know the Israeli government wants to see that to happen as well.”

Turning to Arab governments who have pledged massive assistance to the Palestinians but have been slow to follow through, Bush said, “Arab neighbors need to help the Palestinians develop an economy. Now is the time for people to step up.”

Bush again praised Sharon during their 35-minue meeting, Frederick Jones, a White House spokesman, said.

Sharon told the president “it is impossible to move forward unless the Palestinians address the issue of terrorism,” Jones said.

In a briefing with reporters, Sharon said it was his impression that the United States first wants to see what happens in the Gaza Strip before considering what should happen next.
“Gaza is the test,” he said. “That was spelled out.”

At the same summit, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani praised Israel’s pullout and said that all Arab nations should make a gesture toward Israel for having done it.

“I salute this step by Israel,” he said in a speech Wednesday at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. “Arab countries must take a step toward Israel through an international meeting or a meeting between Arab states and Israel and the co-sponsors of peace, particularly the United States, in an attempt to come up with a clear vision to the period after Gaza.”

After returning to Washington, Bush, wearing a white yarmulke, admired a Torah rescued from the Holocaust that is now at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, an educational and community center for the Jewish community. He then attended a dinner at the National Building Museum organized to commemorate 350 years of Jewish life in America.

In remarks at the dinner, Bush called Sharon a “man of courage” and a “man of peace.” Bush said that in New York, he expressed to Sharon the U.S. commitment to defending the security and well-being of Israel and combating anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad.