DUBAI (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said in comments aired on Friday he was “very optimistic” a Palestinian state could be set up alongside Israel and that next month’s Middle East conference could lead towards peace in the region.
The U.S.-sponsored conference is due to take place in the Washington area in November, although there are doubts over how far it will go towards ending decades of conflict and uncertainty over which Arab states will attend.
“I am very optimistic that we can achieve a two-state solution,” Bush told Al Arabiya television.
“We’re hosting an international conference that will be attended by interested parties and ... a committee from the Arab League. It is an opportunity for serious, substantive discussions about the way forward and a two-state solution,” Bush said.
“I fully understand that the two-state solution is a part of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Our strategy is to get all concerned countries to the table to get this comprehensive peace, and move forward in a way that is tangible.”
Reuters obtained a tape of Bush’s remarks in English in the interview, which was dubbed into Arabic by the network.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed on Wednesday that formal negotiations on Palestinian statehood would begin after the peace conference.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has balked at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for setting a specific timeframe for the resolution of key issues including borders and the fate of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.
Abbas said on Thursday that formal negotiations for statehood could be completed six months after the conference.
“There has been a lot of dialogue between the two men and they are making progress where I believe the average Palestinian and the average Israeli will begin to see what a vision looks like, in other words, something to work for,” Bush said.
Aside from Israel and the Palestinians, the United States would like key Arab states to attend the conference but is unclear how many will.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said Damascus would not join unless the agenda also includes the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war at the same time as the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia, driving force behind an Arab peace proposal relaunched earlier this year, has also indicated it would not attend unless the conference addresses core issues.
The peace conference is part of a U.S.-led effort to bolster Abbas and his West Bank-based government and to isolate Islamist group Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.
Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide and rocket attacks on Israel, has rejected the conference.
“Nobody is going to want to have a state that becomes a launching pad for attack,” Bush said.
“We have to work a lot with the Palestinians to help their security forces, and we are. And help President (Abbas) ... with tangible economic aid so the average Palestinian can see a better life ahead, and can realize there is something better than violence.”
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