WASHINGTON – President Bush is prepared to seek a Middle East peace on an "accelerated basis" now that there is an elected government in the Palestinian territories and violence has declined, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) said Friday.
A day after meeting with Bush, Abbas praised Bush's efforts to capitalize on the improved climate in the region, pointing to U.S. efforts on the diplomatic front and to revitalize the moribund Palestinian economy.
The upcoming visit to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, tentatively next month, is another indication that "the administration is committed to the peace process and to reaching a sue ending his three-day trip to the United States. While making clear his disapproval of a number of Israeli policies, including the location of the security fence Israel is constructing, Abbas refrained from using harsh anti-Israel polemics and suggested he was open to compromise.
"Instead of building walls, we should be building bridges," Abbas said, speaking through a translator.
To the extent that Israel needs a wall for protection against jihadists, he said it should be confined to Israeli territory. Israeli officials say the barrier has led to a sharp decline in terrorist attacks.
For much of his administration, Bush's policies have been seen as pro-Israeli. During the most recent intifada (search), which began a few months before he took office, his administration was sharply critical of terror attacks against Israel but tolerant of Israeli retaliation.
Palestinians felt that Bush's policy failed to take into account the perceived need of Palestinians to retaliate against Israeli occupation of large portions of the West Bank (search).
But Abbas highlighted what he saw as positive actions by Bush. He noted that Bush was the first president to call for the creation of Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace.
Abbas also praised the more activist U.S. approach over the past few months.
He noted the appointment of Gen. William Ward, who is promoting reforms in the Palestinian military and security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.
He also highlighted the appointment of James Wolfensohn (search), the outgoing World Bank president who starts next week on a mission to promote development in the Palestinian territories.