June 19, 2007 / 2:34 PM / in 12 years

Bush, Olmert reaffirm two-state goal

President Bush meets with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Oval Office, June 19, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush, reaffirming a vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, said on Tuesday he hoped to bolster Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas Islamists who now control Gaza.

“Our hope is that President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad will be strengthened to the point where they can lead the Palestinians in a different direction,” Bush said at the start of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Western powers have rallied behind Abbas with promises of renewed aid, hoping to contain damage from Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last week and parlay it into revived peace moves between Palestinian moderates and Israel.

“We share a common vision of two states living side by side in peace,” Bush said, promoting what he called a “common strategy to fight off” extremists in Gaza.

Olmert has said he was open to conciliatory moves toward Abbas, who dismissed the Hamas-led government and formed an emergency cabinet of Fatah loyalists in the West Bank as a counterweight to the Islamists’ control of Gaza.

The United States and European Union pledged on Monday to lift an economic and diplomatic embargo imposed on the Palestinians after Hamas won elections last year and rejected their calls to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Washington, Israel and the EU regard Hamas as a terrorist group. Fatah backs a negotiated peace with the Jewish state.

Abbas wants Bush to urge Israel, Washington’s close ally, to begin peace talks as soon as possible to show his people he can make progress toward their dream of statehood.

The Bush administration has signaled it sees a “West Bank first” policy — doing its utmost to bolster Abbas and to nurture Israeli contacts with him — as the best way to salvage something from Hamas’s military victory in Gaza.

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