WASHINGTON - President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sided
emphatically Tuesday with a weakened Mahmoud Abbas, hoping extra money and warm
words would give the moderate leader primacy over the Islamic militant Hamas in
the newly divided Palestinian territories.
"He has spoken out for
moderation," Bush said at an Oval Office strategy session with Olmert. "He is a
voice that is a reasonable voice amongst the extremists in your neighborhood."
President Bush, right, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June
19, 2007. [AP]
"Like you, I want to strengthen the moderates," echoed Olmert, who promised
"to make every possible effort to cooperate" with Abbas.
It was not the first time Bush has felt the need to prop up Abbas, but this
is a period of particular upheaval and uncertainty.
Bloody street battles in the Gaza Strip ended with Hamas seizing control last
week of the tiny coastal territory from Abbas' Fatah security forces. The rout
prompted Abbas to evict Hamas from the Hamas-Fatah coalition government, a move
Hamas decries as illegal.
Nearly 3 million Palestinians now essentially have two governments. Nearly
half are under Hamas control in Gaza, with the rest under Abbas' authority in
the inland West Bank. Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction, while Abbas' Fatah
movement seeks peace with the Jewish state.
The response from the United States, Israel and much of the West has been
swift: try to shore up Abbas in hopes that the West Bank can be made into a
democratic example that would bring along Gaza.
On Monday, the Bush administration resumed aid and full government contacts
with the Palestinian government, suspended in 2006 when Hamas won legislative
"Our hope is that President Abbas and the prime minister - (Salam) Fayyad,
who's a good fella - will be strengthened to the point where they can lead the
Palestinians in a different direction, with a different hope," Bush said.
In between meetings with the president at the White House and with
congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, Olmert said he would soon present his
government with a proposal to free an unspecified portion of the millions in tax
revenue Israel has collected on behalf of the Palestinians but has frozen since
Hamas took power.
Other concrete steps to bolster Abbas will include increasing freedom of
movement in the West Bank by removing checkpoints and considering the release of
Palestinian prisoners, the prime minister told reporters traveling with him.
Sitting side-by-side in an Oval Office meeting planned well before the Gaza
crisis unfolded, Bush and Olmert painted Abbas as the one true leader of the
Both men called him the "president of all Palestinians" - an effort to confer
at least as much legitimacy on Abbas' 2004 election as president of the
Palestinian Authority as on the Hamas legislative wins last year. Olmert said
Abbas is "perhaps the only person who was widely elected in a democratic manner
by all of the Palestinian people."
Their effort got a lift from a representative of neighboring Arab states.
Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said those countries back Abbas'
moves to dissolve the coalition cabinet, declare a state of emergency and outlaw
Hamas' armed wing. "The Arab League stands firmly with the president and with
the legality," he told CNN.
While the leaders heaped support on Abbas, they sought to further isolate
democratically elected Hamas by doing just the opposite.