Bush Calls Mideast Peace Conference

The Associated Press
Monday, July 16, 2007; 7:10 PM

WASHINGTON -- Declaring a "moment of choice" in the Middle East, President Bush said Monday he would call Israel, the Palestinians and others in the region to a peace conference aimed at restarting stalled talks and moving faster toward a Palestinian state.

Such a session could result in Israelis sitting at the same conference table as countries such as Saudi Arabia that do not recognize Israel diplomatically.

Bush said the conference, open to countries in the region that support a two-state solution to the long Israeli-Palestinian standoff, would be headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

He also pledged more U.S. financial support for the moderate Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas and called for the convening of a group of "donor" countries to increase international financial aid, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

In an appeal directed at the divided Palestinian people, Bush drew a contrast between what he said life would be like under an Abbas government and under the rule of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which gained authority over Gaza in June. Abbas now controls only the West Bank.

"This is a moment of clarity for all Palestinians. And now comes a moment of choice," Bush said in a speech intended to signal a new resolve on the part of his administration to help restart the stalled peace process.

"Iraq is not the only pivotal matter in the Middle East," Bush said.

He said that many changes had come, "some hopeful, some dispiriting," in the more than five years since he became the first U.S. president to voice full, open support for a separate, independent Palestine alongside Israel.

He said Abbas and his new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, "are striving to build the institutions of a modern democracy" while Hamas "has demonstrated beyond all doubt that it is devoted to extremism and murder."

Only the Palestinians can decide which of these two paths to follow, Bush said.

His remarks drew taunts from Hamas.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, "Bush's statements come in the context of garnering support for Abbas to fight Palestinian legitimacy, represented by Hamas."

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