WASHINGTON – President Bush said Thursday that he wanted to lock in the outlines of a Palestinian state before he leaves office, even as Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said the road is “paved with obstacles.”
With less than nine months to achieve that goal, Bush is conducting a flurry of diplomatic meetings, including a session with Abbas in the Oval Office on Thursday, seeking to pressure Israel, the Palestinians and their Arab allies.
“A Palestinian state is a high priority for me and my administration – a viable state, a state that doesn’t look like Swiss cheese,” Bush said.
Bush met Wednesday with King Abdullah of Jordan. In May, he is planning to make his second visit to the Middle East this year.
Abbas, speaking with Bush during a photo session at the end of their roughly 35-minute meeting, said, “Time is of the essence.”
Without spelling out specific challenges, he said: “I cannot say that the road to peace is paved with flowers. It is paved with obstacles.”
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resumed meetings earlier this month after a six-week break, seeking to make progress on the U.S.-sponsored peace talks. They have met only sporadically since the peace conference in Annapolis, Md., in November.
Serious questions remain about whether Bush, Abbas and Olmert can reach the necessary compromises to finalize the outlines of a Palestinian state by Jan. 20.