President Bush says Israel has a "bold idea" in a plan to re-draw its borders if Palestinian peace talks remain stalled, but he adds that a negotiated settlement is the "best path to peace."
Speaking at the White House after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mr. Bush urged Israel to reach out to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He also called on the Hamas-led Palestinian government once again to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
Mr. Olmert says he hopes to meet with Mr. Abbas "in the near future." He told reporters Tuesday that Israel is sincerely interested in negotiations, but it cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians, and would be compelled to "try a different route" if talks do not take place.
The Israeli leader is set to address (a joint meeting of) the U.S. Congress today (Wednesday). If negotiations with the Palestinians do not resume, Mr. Olmert's plan calls for a partial withdrawal from the West Bank, with Israel annexing some of the major Jewish settlements. He would unilaterally re-draw the boundaries between Israeli and Palestinian territory.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives voted its approval of an effort to cut off all aid to the Palestinians' Hamas-led government, and to declare the Palestinian Authority a terrorist sanctuary. President Bush opposes the measure, which White House officials say would hurt the Palestinian people by constricting the flow of humanitarian aid.
The United States and other Western nations suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas came to power, because the group refuses to condemn violence and accept Israel's right to exist as a nation.
The VOA congressional correspondent says the bill passed by the House Tuesday would cut off all government-funded aid to the Palestinian government and also affect humanitarian assistance flowing through non-governmental organizations. The proposed punitive measures also would restrict travel by Palestinian officials based at the United Nations.
The Senate has passed a similar bill, but the upper house's version gives the president authority to disregard the legislation, if necessary, in the interests of U.S. national security. Differences between the two chambers' proposals would have to be reconciled before the bill could move forward; it also would have to be approved by the president.