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Bush hopes for Mideast peace before term ends

  • Story Highlights
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House on Thursday
  • Bush says he supports a Palestinian state "that doesn't look like Swiss cheese"
  • The president is planning to travel to Israel next month
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After meeting Thursday at the White House, President Bush and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed hope that peace can be achieved in the Middle East before Bush's term ends in January.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with President Bush in the White House on Thursday.

"I assured the president that a Palestinian state is a high priority for me and my administration," Bush told reporters as Abbas looked on. "A viable state, a state that doesn't look like Swiss cheese, a state that provides hope."

Bush lauded Abbas as a man who "rejects the idea of using violence to achieve objectives, which distinguishes him from other people in the region."

That remark was an apparent reference to leaders of Hamas, which won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature in 2006.

The State Department considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization, and U.S. officials have refused to hold direct talks with it.

Former President Jimmy Carter met with Hamas officials during his visits to Egypt and Syria last week.

"I am confident we can achieve the definition of a state," Bush said. I am also confident it's going to require hard work. To that end, I'm going back to the Middle East."

Speaking to Abbas, Bush said, "I consider you a friend; I also consider you a courageous person. I also believe strongly that when history looks back on this moment and a state is defined, that the Palestinian people will thank you for your leadership."

Bush, who is experiencing low approval ratings at home, has expressed similar beliefs about how history will view his legacy.

For his part, Abbas thanked Bush for the peace initiative he launched at a conference last November in Annapolis, Maryland, where Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. participants agreed to a two-state solution as a goal.

"We believe that you actually are truly seeking a true, genuine and lasting peace in the Middle East, and I am certain that you would like to see an agreement and settlement before the end of your term," he said.

He added, "We are doing everything we can in order to seriously negotiate and reach a peace that would be satisfactory to both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side, a peace that would be promoted throughout the world."

Abbas also praised the Arab Peace Initiative, proposed in 2002, which "simply states that peace will be achieved after the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab and Palestinian territories."

Once that occurs, he said, "I strongly believe that more than 57 Arab and Islamic countries will normalize their relations with Israel."

Abbas praised Bush's plans to return next month to the Middle East in connection with celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel as "a strong indication that you are very keen to continue to work very hard and to achieve your vision." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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