In a joint appearance with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday, President Bush said he isn't ready to outline a timeframe for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but he said the foundation needs to be laid immediately.
"We're not ready to lay down any specific calendar, except to say that we have to get started quickly — soon — so we can seize the moment," Bush said at the conclusion of weekend talks with Mubarak.
Bush also said he was disappointed with the leadership of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
He called once more on Arafat to "do everything in his power to stop the violence, to stop the attacks on Israel — I mean everything."
Despite Bush's frustration with Arafat, Mubarak said of the Palestinian leader: "We should give this man a chance."
Bush welcomed Mubarak to the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, calling it "a place where we like to welcome our friends."
The two had dinner Friday at Camp David and held Saturday morning talks at which both Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell were present.
After the talks, the presidents spoke to reporters on a wooded lane outside Holly Cabin. Cheney, recovering from a leg injury, listened to the press conference from a nearby golf cart.
Bush gave just a brief opening statement while Mubarak, speaking in Arabic, delivered a lengthy assessment of the crisis in which he accused Israel of "assassinations" and "illegal confiscations."
Mubarak came to the talks hoping his American counterpart would set a deadline for Palestinian statehood and ease his criticism of Arafat. But Bush didn't do either of the things Mubarak had in mind.
"Chairman Arafat, as far as I am concerned, is not the issue," Bush said. "I have constantly said I am disappointed in his leadership. I think he has let the Palestinian people down. Therefore, my focus is on the reforms necessary to help the Palestinians."
The president was vague about any timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state.
"We need to start immediately in building the institutions necessary for the emergence of a Palestinian state which will give hope to the Palestinian people and say to the world that there is a chance to live in peace, to defeat terror," Bush said.
Mubarak countered that violence would not end unless "the people feel there is hope for peace."
Switching to English, Mubarak spoke on Arafat's behalf.
"We should give this man a chance," he said. "We are working very hard with cooperation with the United States for reform in the Palestinian Authority. Such a chance would prove that he is going to deliver or not."
Mubarak also laid down a list of demands on Israel, including: an end on the siege it has imposed on Palestinians; a withdrawal of Israeli forces; a stop to the assassinations and repeated incursions in Palestinian territories; and a halt to all settlement in occupied territories, including the illegal confiscation of land and the expansion of settlement under the pretext of natural growth.
Bush had invited Mubarak to the secluded, wooded presidential retreat hoping he would play an instrumental role in leading Palestinians to the peace table — much as Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, did in forging the first peace accord between Israel and an Arab state. Islamic radicals assassinated Sadat after he signed that 1979 Egypt-Israeli treaty.
Mubarak thanked Bush, who refused to get involved in the conflict before this year, for stepping in to try to mediate the crisis.
"Your personal role, Mr. President, and the role of the United States today remains as important as was America's contribution to us reaching the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel more than two decades ago," Mubarak said.
Bush meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House on Monday. The president has indicated he hopes to form and unveil a peace plan at a Mideast peace conference in Turkey this summer.
He wants to be able to offer concrete suggestions for Israel-Palestinian negotiations and perhaps some sort of timetable for a Palestinian state by the time he delivers that national address.
Bush's diplomatic offensive was complicated this week after a car-and-bus explosion killed 17 Israelis.
Sharon's government responded by dispatching troops to Arafat's compound in Ramallah and to the West Bank town of Jenin, the hometown of the 18-year-old Islamic extremist who detonated the explosion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.