President George W. Bush began his Middle East trip in Israel where he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Mr. Bush emphasized the strong relationship the U.S. and Israel share. "The source of that strength," said Mr. Bush, "is a shared belief in the power of human freedom. Our people have built two great democracies under difficult circumstances. We built free economies to unleash the potential of our people. And the alliance between our two nations helps guarantee Israel's security as a Jewish state."
President Bush said that the United States and Israel need to remain on guard against terrorism. "We must firmly resist those who murder the innocent to achieve their political objectives," said Mr. Bush. "We must recognize that the great ideology based upon liberty is hopeful."
A big part of the effort to create more hope in the region is the effort to establish a Palestinian state. "The role of the United States will be to foster a vision of peace," said President Bush. "The role of the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership," he said, "is going to be to do the hard work necessary to define a vision."
In a step toward that goal, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have pledged to have negotiators begin work on final status issues regarding a future Palestinian state. These include the border between Israel and a future Palestine, competing claims to Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and Israeli security concerns.
President Bush urged Palestinians to support President Abbas in his efforts to negotiate a Palestinian state. If Palestinians support terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, they will miss the chance to have their own state.
There is an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to work out the details of a two-state solution this year. The United States, said President Bush, sees "a new opportunity for peace. . . .in the Holy Land and for freedom across the region."