Bush to Urge Mideast Peace Process

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WASHINGTON - With critics calling his second Middle East trip this year more symbolism than substance, President Bush will still attempt to nudge the peace process forward this week.

Later this week Bush will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

But Bush Counselor Ed Gillespie says the absence of three-way meetings with the partners for peace does not mean hope for a peace agreement is gone.

"I don't believe the process is hopelessly stalled," Gillespie said. "And while there's not going to be three leaders meeting at once, the conversations are continuous, as you know. President Abbas was here at the White House recently, and the President will see him during the trip as well. And these discussions are government to government not individual to individual, and these discussions will continue on. "

Weaknesses in both peace partners could jeopardize chances for a peace deal before Bush leaves office. There are also questions about Mahmoud Abbas' ability to deliver on his promises. The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas refuses to recognize israel's right to exist.

Meanwhile Israelis are expanding settlements on the West Bank, and Ehud Olmert is facing possible criminal charges in a bribery investigation.

Is the President still as optimistic that he will see during his Administration, before the end of January, the creation of a Palestinian state?

"We believe it's possible, and we're going to continue to push," Gillespie said. "And we know this, if we don't continue to push, it's won't be possible."

After two days in Israel, Bush plans stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to seek Arab support for the peace process, the struggling government in Iraq, and help in lowering the skyrocketing price of oil.

The White House position is that pushing OPEC to boost production won't be enough, that America must build new refineries, explore its domestic reserves and find alternate sources of energy at home.

"Many here in the United States who say, 'the Saudis or others over there should produce more oil,' are the same people who are stopping the American people from stopping oil domestically," Gillespie said.

Many say it is simply not a one-shot solution to the demand for oil and meeting that demand. There's much still to be done domestically.

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