Israel Pleased With Bush Condemnation of Palestinian Violence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Two months after taking office President Bush finds himself being drawn into the morass of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, against his own stated desire not to become personally involved in the situation.

Bush has moved a step closer to defining his Middle East policy on Thursday indicating that he holds Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat responsible to some degree for the ongoing violence.

"We see a clear position [from Bush] that the violence must stop," said Professor Ephraim Inbar, director of the Tel Aviv based BESA Institute for Strategic Studies, Friday. "It couldn't be any better for Israel."

While it may be true that Bush did not exude the type of "warmth" shown by President Clinton, Inbar said, "warmth is not important."

Asked at a news conference Thursday if he was sending a message to Arafat by not inviting him to the White House, Bush said that he was sending a signal to the Palestinians to "stop the violence."

"I can't make it any more clear. And I hope that Chairman Arafat hears it loud and clear," Bush told reporters.

Bush has invited the Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders to Washington but pointedly has not extended an invitation to Arafat.

While reports from Washington had suggested that the PA leader would not be invited until the violence was curbed, Bush's comment was the clearest official indication that this is the case.

"I've got quite a crowded calendar of leaders who are coming to see me, and I'm looking forward to visiting with President [Hosni] Mubarak and King Abdullah," Bush said. Mubarak left for Europe on Friday on his way to Washington.

At Bush's instruction, Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Arafat later Thursday to reiterate the administration's message.

Bush called on Arafat to condemn violence and terrorism, publicly and in Arabic. He has in the past been accused of transmitting one message to the international community in English and a very different one when addressing Palestinians in Arabic.

According to radio reports, Palestinian leaders were set to meet in Ramallah on Friday evening to discuss Bush's call to end the violence.

Inbar said he did not believe Arafat would necessarily heed Washington's wishes.

"Arafat refused to go along with the desires [of the previous administration]," he noted. "He is reluctant to accept American advice."

Inbar said Arafat appeared now to be aligning himself with the more radical forces in the region.

Iraq has pledged military and financial aid to the Palestinians for their struggle against Israel.

Syria, estranged from Arafat since he signed the 1993 Oslo Accords with Israel, sought reconciliation with the PA during the Arab League summit in Amman this week. Arafat is due to fly to Damascus soon to meet with President Bashar Assad.

To underline its point, Washington earlier in the week vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an international observer force to be deployed to "protect" the Palestinians.

But the PA has said it will continue campaigning for such a resolution. Israel is opposed to the involvement of international troops, arguing that its presence would merely protect the terrorists.

Inbar said he does not understand what the Palestinian goals really are at this point. It seemed to him Arafat was simply a "revolutionary," and not the pragmatist many had hoped he had become since entering talks with Israel eight years ago.

In his press conference, Bush also called on Israel to "exercise restraint in its military response" to violence and terrorism, although he did not ask Israel not to respond.

He also said Israel "should take steps to restore normalcy to the lives of the Palestinian people by easing closures and removing checkpoints," which he noted that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had agreed to do when the two met last week.