WASHINGTON – President Bush issued an evenhanded demand Saturday to Israelis, Palestinians and their Arab neighbors to make hard choices as they seek to end bloodshed in the Middle East.
"The time is now for all of us to make the choice for peace," he said in his weekly radio address.
Bush took pains to insist upon action from all players in the Middle East crisis.
"All parties must realize that the only long-term solution is for two states — Israel and Palestine — to live side by side in security and peace," the president said. "This will require hard choices and real leadership by Israelis and Palestinians and their Arab neighbors."
He urged Israel to "continue its withdrawals" but did not repeat his demand earlier this month that it do so "without delay'' or identify any specific timetable.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Friday that a gradual withdrawal from Palestinian cities would continue.
Bush also demanded that the Palestinian Authority "act on its words of condemnation against terror." And, he said, "all Arab nations must confront terror in their own region.''
The president has been stepping up his talks with Arab leaders. Next week he meets with the King Mohammed VI of Morocco at the White House and plays host to Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.
Bush called Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the region this week "intensive and productive," though Powell was unable to talk Israelis and the Palestinians into a course for peace.
Bush cautioned Americans not to expect too much in the near term from American efforts. "In this region, we are confronting hatred that is centuries old, and disputes that have lingered for decades,'' he said.
But, he said, "America has a vision for peace, and by calling all the leaders of the Middle East to their responsibilities, Secretary Powell made progress toward peace."
The administration assured the Arab countries Friday that it would keep working for peace with Yasser Arafat, effectively sidetracking the view of some senior U.S. officials that an alternative Palestinian leader should be sought out.
The White House also expressed support for an international investigation of Israel's incursion into the Palestinian-held town of Jenin in search of terrorists. The Palestinians claim Israeli forces committed massacres and wholesale humanitarian abuses there.
A U.S. resolution to have the United Nations send a fact-finding mission to Jenin passed the Security Council unanimously Friday night. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Israel would welcome a U.N. mission "to clarify the facts.'' He said Israel has nothing to hide: "Our hands are clean.''
Anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment remained strong in the Middle East.
In Bahrain, more than 3,000 marched in the capital, Manama, from a mosque where they had held weekly Friday prayers to the local office of the United Nations chanting: "Death to the U.S. and Israel!''
They burned an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and demanded that the government to close the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. base on the island. Bahrain is the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
In Jordan, more than 2,000 protesters marched through the streets of a Palestinian refugee camp outside Amman, calling for Palestinians to go to war.
The State Department responded with assurances that the United States would not waver in its Middle East policy, which calls for establishment of a Palestinian state and Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
"We have not only the pathway forward, but we have ways of working to make sure we go down that path," department spokesman Richard Boucher said.