WASHINGTON – Slow to get started on Mideast peacemaking but now resolved to see it through, President Bush faces appeals from Palestinian and Israeli leaders to pressure the other side on core issues.
Bush's goals are clear: a Palestinian state by 2005 and an end to terror attacks on Israel. The question is whether he can resist urgings to speed up his deliberate pace.
"I am sure that both sides want to see progress come faster," Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged on Wednesday. "But you can't go faster than circumstances permit."
Besides, Powell said, "progress has been made."
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search), who calls at the White House on Friday, is urging the president to put the heat on Israel to clear out of the West Bank to make way for the Palestinian state. He especially wants an acceleration of the dismantling of Jewish settlements.
Palestinian information minister Nabil Amr (search) suggested Wednesday the Palestinian parliament might oust Abbas if he doesn't leave the White House with substantial Israeli commitments.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search), who calls on Bush next Tuesday, has tough demands, as well. At the top of his list is that Abbas confront terror groups and immediately start uprooting them.
Sharon's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom (search), who held his own round of talks in Washington on Wednesday, said the time has come for Abbas to take on the terror groups directly and begin to dismantle them.
Otherwise, Shalom said, "those extremists will decide when to put an end to the peace process, and we are not willing to give them this opportunity."
Abbas has negotiated a temporary cease-fire with the militants, but Israelis worry that just gives terrorists time to regroup. Abbas has not gone beyond a strategy of using persuasion to end violence.
Powell, at a joint news conference with Shalom, supported many of the Israeli and Palestinian objectives. "We will be talking to both sides about their obligations and responsibilities," he said.
So far, Powell said, Israel and the Palestinians have taken several positive steps and Abbas' leadership and strategy was "paying off" for the Palestinian people.
Shibley Telhami, a professor of international relations at the University of Maryland, said the timetable the president is following will not put Abbas in a position to be able to deliver quickly on central Palestinian goals.
On top of that, Telhami said, Abbas is "extremely vulnerable as he has delivered little to his public."
Judith Kipper of the Council on Foreign Relations (search), who has faulted Bush for a slow start, said his personal commitment to a Mideast settlement could now spur Israel and the Palestinians to progress.
"His determination and self-confidence that he is going to succeed in doing what he started out to do will serve the peace process well," Kipper said in an interview.
Stephen P. Cohen of the Israel Policy Forum (search) said Bush had put in place the first move in a chess game as well as the last - a Palestinian state.
"But he hasn't figured out the middle game, and this week and next in his meetings he is going to face the complexities," Cohen said.