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Bush, Blair Agree Mideast Peace Needs Arab-Israeli Pact

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2006 – There has to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a greater solution in the Middle East, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said during a White House news conference this morning.

Blair will soon travel to the region to work on bringing Israel and the Palestinian state forward, he said.

Democracy in the Middle East is a threat to insurgents and terrorists in the region, Bush said. “One of the reasons why there hasn't been instant success is because radicals and extremists are trying to stop the advance of a Palestinian state,” he said. “Why? Because democracy is a defeat for them.”

The U.S. and British goal is to strengthen the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.

“Now the fundamental question is, can we help the moderates prevail?” Bush said. “And make no mistake about it, radicals and extremists will kill in order to stop the progress, and … that's what's difficult. But it should be a signal to those of us who have got the comfort of liberty to understand the consequences of this ideological struggle we're fighting. One of the consequences is the denial of a Palestinian state, which is ironic, isn't it? I think it is, and it's sad.”

Before the parties can reach a peaceful resolution, Blair said, those holding Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit must release him. Palestinian militants abducted Shalit through an underground tunnel into Israel on June 25. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and four others wounded in the attack. His captors have since confirmed he is alive.

Shalit’s safe return would allow Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to release many Palestinian prisoners, Blair said.

“We are prepared to take the peace process forward and get into a process of negotiation, but we need a government on both sides that is committed to the basic principles of that negotiation.”

The current Hamas government will not form a national unity government on the Palestinian side. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, Blair said. “That's the difficulty,” he said. “It's not a kind of technical point. It's absolutely at the heart of it.”

If all sides take this very basic position, Blair said, “you could move this forward quickly.”

“I don't think there's any doubt at all that if you could get an empowered Palestinian government able to negotiate, Israel has made it clear it is prepared to negotiate,” he said. “I'm not saying there aren't very tricky issues -- there are -- things like Jerusalem, the right of return, which are very difficult. But actually, it's not beyond our wit to put it together. We could put it together. But you need to get these initial steps taken.”

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Transcript of News Conference

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