WASHINGTON – In his first diplomatic venture in the Middle East, President Bush drew promises of peacemaking from Israel and the Palestinians, and said he intends to ride herd on both sides if they falter.
Bush won a promise from Arab leaders to oppose terror and to back his pursuit of a settlement. At a summit with Israel's Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, the president gained positive gestures from the prime ministers.
"It was a good beginning," Bush said of the meeting Wednesday in Jordan. "It's a start."
Sharon pledged to dismantle outposts of Israeli trailers and tents on the West Bank.
"It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state," Sharon said.
The first settlement outposts will be removed in the coming days, Sharon adviser Zalman Shoval (search) said.
Abbas said the armed uprising against Israel must end and "we must use and resort to peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation."
The statements suggested Israel and the Palestinians were ready to take the first steps in putting in place a road map designed to end their conflict and set up a Palestinian state by 2005.
"Amazing things were said," Bush told reporters on Air Force One as he moved on to Qatar in the Persian Gulf to meet with Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, and speak to U.S. troops at Camp As Sayliyah (search).
But Bush was cautious. "There are killers lurking in the neighborhood" who want to thwart any agreement, he said.
Still, the president said he thought peace was possible. He said he would "keep the thing moving" and that he had told Sharon and Abbas he would "ride herd" on the process.
The U.S.-backed plan requires far more than what was said at the summit.
It demands of the Palestinian leadership "sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror" as well as the dismantling of "terrorist capabilities and infrastructures."
In 1988, Yasser Arafat (search) renounced terrorism, but attacks on Israel did not stop. Bush last year declared him entwined in the bombings and denounced him as an ineffective leader.
Some European countries say they will continue dialogue with Arafat. Secretary of State Colin Powell told officials from entities that helped draft the road map — the European Union, United Nations and Russia — that the United States does not think that is a good idea, spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday.
The other leaders assured Powell they intended to tell Arafat he must stop terrorism and let Abbas's government take hold.
Mohammed Dahlan (search), the Palestinian Authority's security minister, said Wednesday that the "intefadeh as a concept of an armed confrontation has ended, but the intefadeh as a struggle by the Palestinian people as a whole in the quest for regaining the rights of the Palestinians will continue."
Dahlan, who has won praise from the Bush administration, said there was now a real and serious opportunity "to extract the Palestinian state from Sharon's fangs."
Sharon faces tough decisions on how much land to turn over to a provisional Palestinian state, how many Jewish settlers will be forced to quit the West Bank and whether he will give up part of Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital.
Bush signaled he was hardening his demands of Israel, saying the Jewish state must "deal" with the settlements issue.
Having stepped into Mideast peacemaking, the president said he plans to stay engaged. "I know it's going to be hard," he said. "I think the fact that I represent a great country and am willing to sit down with these leaders and give the sense that we're all in this together is hopeful."
University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami (search), a longtime Mideast analyst, said Bush has incentives to follow through.
"It's a nice diversion from Iraq," Telhami said. "It narrows the gap between the U.S. and Europe. And public opinion polls show the American people would reward him if he got involved, even if he failed."
M.J. Rosenberg, director of the Israel Policy Forum's (search) Washington office, said, "The past two days demonstrated President Bush is engaged politically, personally and diplomatically."
"He is in it for the long haul," Rosenberg said. "I think that was the main question that was answered."
Richard W. Murphy, former assistant secretary of state for the Near East, said he was surprised Bush decided "to put himself personally on the line like this."
"He has helped them get started with a pledge from Sharon on outposts and from Abbas on terrorism," said Murphy, now with the Council on Foreign Relations (search), a private research group. "And he has shown in other areas it is a pledge he is going to hold them to."
Murphy said Bush's campaign for re-election is under way and "historically it's not been an ideal time for a president to bring himself into the act for any detail."
But King Abdullah II of Jordan (search) told reporters that he believes Bush "would not have committed himself to the process without taking into consideration the elections."
Bush is sending U.S. monitors to the region to keep Israel and the Palestinians in touch with each other and to offer mediation help. Assistant Secretary of State John S. Wolf (search) will head the group.