The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 15, 2008

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
King David Hotel

3:52 P.M. (Local)

MS. PERINO:  I thought I'd just stop by quickly, before tonight's activities.  I would say the President had a really fantastic time at Masada today.  The guides there were enthusiastic and so well informed and they were able to talk about the history and the meaning of the site to Israel -- and to all of us, actually.  And all of the work that they've done on the archaeological dig sites -- the President was able to meet a couple of American students who were there and he enjoyed that very much.

And then we went on -- he had some meetings there at the Knesset, right before his speech.  You were there for the speech; you've had the speech since 9:00 a.m., so I think I'll just take some questions.

Q    There's some question about his comment here about "some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong" -- you know the passage.  And he talks about the "false comfort of appeasement."  This is being seen in some quarters as a slam on Senator Obama.  Is this in any way directed at Senator Obama?

MS. PERINO:  It is not.  And I would think that all of you who cover these issues and have for a long time have known that there are many who have suggested these types of negotiations with people that President Bush thinks we should not talk to.  I understand when you're running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you -- that is not always true and it is not true in this case.

Q    But, so, not aimed at him -- do they include him?

MS. PERINO:  He'll have to speak for himself as to what his policy is and you guys can know it well.  This was a speech that the President gave to the Knesset.  And this is not a new statement by President Bush.  This is long-established United States policy, so it should come as no surprise that President Bush suggests that we should not be talking with  these people.

Q    This is part of the election cycle, though -- was he stepping into the political cycle?

MS. PERINO:  Of course he's not -- the President is President, regardless of an election cycle.  And he's going to be the President of the United States until January 20, 2009.  And we are not going to change policy based on the '08 election.  We're not going to stop talking about the ideals and the values of the United States because there's an '08 election.  They can fight it out for themselves over there, but this is not new policy that the President announced and it should come as no surprise to anybody that the President would talk about this.  He talks about it in almost every interview, and in particular when he's talking about the issues of Hamas and Hezbollah, al Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, other state sponsors of terror.  It's long-established United States policy.

Q    But you did say there are others who have enunciated a policy --

MS. PERINO:  Sure.

Q    -- of talk -- and he has talked about this.  So why shouldn't it be seen as anything?

MS. PERINO:  I'm not going to get into '08 politics.  The speech was not about '08 politics.  If they want to try to make it about '08 politics -- and obviously be helped by the media -- so be it.  But the President is President of the United States.  This is a long-established policy that he has held and that he has talked about all over the world.  And you guys have seen it for seven-and-a-half years.  It's not going to change now.

Q    Dana, two questions.  On the -- just one thing -- there was another line in the President's speech about some have called for us to break ties with Israel.  Did the President have anyone particular in mind?  Because I have not actually heard anyone call for that.

MS. PERINO:  I'll have to check for you; I don't know.

Q    Okay.  And then, also, just more generally, did the -- was there a reason why the President did not talk more about his two-state solution idea today?  Did he -- it seems striking that he did not really go into that much today, with sort of an opportunity to speak to the Israeli politicians.

MS. PERINO:  I would suggest you should go back and look at his speech.  First of all, this is the celebration of Israel's founding.  That is the purpose of the event today -- it's not meant to be a "kitchen sink" speech.  In every interview and every opportunity the President has talked about the specifics of the policy.  You know what that is.  And nothing has changed in the last 36 hours, I believe is the last time the President spoke about it.

But I would also have you look at the speech in terms of what he said in regards to the next 60 years.  The next 60 years -- he articulated a vision of prosperity, security and peace in the region.  And implicit in that is that you have a secure state of Palestine.  I heard someone suggest that the President was favoring Israel over this.  I have to ask for people to take a step back and look at what President Bush has articulated. 

Right now, this very moment, President Bush is having a meeting with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, of the Quartet.  And the purpose of that meeting is for him to get an update on the progress they are making on the institution building for the Palestinians, on the economic development aspects for the Palestinians.  And part of the prosperity, as well, is not only does Israel want to be a prosperous country, but so do the Palestinians.

And the other thing that the President said is that every living being on Earth should be given the ability to have freedom, religious freedom, justice, the right to live the way that they want to live.  That includes the Palestinians; it does not exclude them.

Q    Has any progress been made at all on the peace talks front during his visit here?

MS. PERINO:  Well, they had private meetings, and as we've said, there's a lot of private discussions that are ongoing.  The President believes that some of the most progress is made in these bilateral meetings.  But we should not underestimate the power of the negotiating team between the Israelis and the Palestinians and what they are able to do behind the scenes.  But as a specific outcome item or a benchmark that you're looking for, I don't have anything for you. 

Q    Can you give us a little bit more on what we can expect in Saudi Arabia, in terms of access?  Are we going to have any readouts, stuff like that?

MS. PERINO:  Yes, certainly will do what I can to make sure, and I'll see if there's -- if I can bring somebody else by as well.  But it's a little bit -- what you have in the schedule is what is planned.  As you saw last time, things can change at a moment's notice.  So we'll give you as much heads up as we can.  Right now there's no changes.

Q    Some people also noticed that in the speech before the Knesset, I mean, the Palestinians were barely mentioned.  Why was that?

MS. PERINO:  This is the same answer that I just gave to Mike, that this is a speech about Israel's founding.  If you look at what -- when he articulates the vision of the next 60 years and the 120th anniversary of Israel, and he talks about how every person born in the world deserves to live in peace and prosperity and to have security, to have -- these aren't exact words from the speech, but to be able to achieve the aspirations that they have for their children -- these are people all over the world -- he's talking about the Palestinians.

And remember, yesterday he spoke about the livelihoods of the Palestinians to President Peres.  As Prime Minister Olmert said yesterday, they spent a significant amount of time talking about that yesterday in their expanded meeting and in their one-on-one meeting.  And he'll also, just in a day or two -- is it a day, two days?  When we're in Egypt, he'll meet with President Abbas and then Prime Minister Fayyad.  And I would ask you to also look towards that -- look to that World Economic Forum speech to again be a place where the President calls upon the neighbors of the region to support the Palestinians, not just in words, but in other ways that they can show their support.

I would also say that next week is the first time that the United States is sending a delegation -- and I would say a very high-level delegation -- to the Bethlehem conference, which is specifically to focus on the Palestinian issues.  So there's no shortage of focus on the Palestinians.

Where people say that the President of the United States, this President has been the greatest friend Israel has ever had, he's also the first President who has ever articulated what a state could be for the Palestinians, and then given them the tools to achieve that peace with the Israelis in a way that doesn't impose the peace on them, but encourages them to establish it on their own.  He is the one who has established the public-private partnerships that Walter Isaacson is heading up, in order to establish vocational schools and training, so that people can get jobs and have an alternative vision, because part of that vision that the President talks about in terms of the ideological struggle that we're facing here, it's not just about terrorism, but it's how do you show people that there's a better way of life.

And all of these pieces -- the Quartet meeting that he's having right now, the conversations he had yesterday with President Peres and Prime Minister Olmert, and the meetings that he's planning to have at the World Economic Forum are all a part of that.

Q    Any names on that delegation to the Bethlehem Conference?

MS. PERINO:  I know that Henrietta Fore will be there.*   Obviously I have no notes with me, so --

Q    Yes, but this is the first time that the U.S. has sent a delegation?


Q    Okay.

Q    Did the President have any reaction to --

MS. PERINO:  But we'll get you the list.

Q    Did the President have any reaction to kind of the ruckus on the floor today?

MS. PERINO:  No, I haven't been able to talk to him.  We went up -- he got here and directly went to his meeting with Tony Blair, and I came to you.

Q    There was -- well, the President didn't speak at length about the Palestinians.  Prime Minister Olmert did talk about the peace process a little bit and at some length and said that if it were submitted to the parliament and to the people, that it would be approved by a vast majority.  Does the President have the same feeling about that?  Is that his reading of the situation?

MS. PERINO:  President Bush needs to focus on our own Congress, not the parliament here in Israel.  As you heard him say the other day, that he thinks of Israeli politics as being like full-court karate, and I would think that Prime Minister Olmert probably has the best read on it.  And if he thinks it'll be passed overwhelmingly, then I would have to defer to him.

I would say that the -- when you come here and you're able to hear the anguish in their voices when they talk about the attack yesterday at Ashkelon, that there are two sides here that have grievances and they are deeply seated and long held.  And credit must be given to leaders like President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert who have decided that, for the future of their people, that the best thing to do is to try to put that behind them and to establish what a state could look like by the end of this year.  They said they wanted to do it under this President.  We are hopeful that it can occur, but it's very tough when terrorists attack an innocent mother and child, and then go and hide amongst innocent women and children when they fear retaliation.

So there's no shortage of complexity in dealing with this.

Q    There's some thought that when President Bush leaves, that Israel will indeed have a retaliation.  The Prime Minister spoke about it last night, and the Speaker of the Parliament said today that Israel would respond with a heavy hand.  Is it the U.S. expectation that once the President is gone, that Israel will respond with force?

MS. PERINO:  That I couldn't speak to, but I don't think that -- the words that I heard them use today to me were not different than what they've been using in the past, especially since Hamas undertook a coup to turn guns on their own people and to take power over President Abbas -- I'm sorry, from President Abbas, excuse me.

Q    Does the President agree with Mr. Netanyahu's statement to him, that Israel should remain united under Israel sovereignty?

MS. PERINO:  I don't know what -- I don't know, I couldn't answer the question.  I haven't -- can you rephrase so I can understand what you're getting at?

Q    I'm sorry, Jerusalem, excuse me.

MS. PERINO:  Jerusalem?

Q    My fault, my fault.  Jerusalem, I meant, yes, yes, yes.

MS. PERINO:  No wonder I was so confused.  (Laughter.)

Q    Yes, I'm confused.  Jerusalem.

MS. PERINO:  That is one of the issues that the President believes is going to have to be worked out once they get through this process of -- the three-pronged process of the negotiations, the strengthening of the institutions and the economy of the Palestinians, and the implementation of the road map.  And Jerusalem is going to be one of the issues that they have to grapple with, but he can't impose that on them.

Q    Okay.

MS. PERINO:  Okay.

Q    Thank you.

MS. PERINO:  You're welcome.

END           4:05 P.M. (Local)

* Due to a scheduling conflict, USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore is unable to serve as a member of the Presidential Delegation to Bethlehem for the Palestine Investment Conference.


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