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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Trusted Abbas courts US

By Matthew Price
BBC News, Jerusalem

It is easy to be cynical about Middle East press conferences.

After all most of the things that come out of them have been said time and time again.

Like this from George W Bush on Thursday: "Israel must remove unauthorised posts and stop settlement expansion... This is a time of great possibilities in the Middle East... and the people of the region are counting on their leaders to seize the opportunities for peace and progress."

Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech under a portrait of Yasser Arafat
Mr Abbas is more welcome in Washington than his predecessor

Or this from Mahmoud Abbas: "The time has come to put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The time has come that the Palestinian people will attain freedom and independence."

There was little new today, as the two leaders stood on the White House lawn.

The US again called on the Palestinians to do more to stop violence against Israel. The Palestinians again complained about Israel's actions.

Both leaders again voiced their commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Subtle signs

Certainly Palestinians watching from afar will feel they have seen all this before.

Every day they have to put up with the Israeli military occupation of their land.

Their lives are controlled by Israel. And they see no sign of that changing any time soon.

Of course Israel says that it could all change, if the Palestinians would stop attacking Israeli civilians.

Mahmoud Abbas and President Bush at the White House
The key thing is there are partners in peace
President Bush

But there were a handful of little signs today that perhaps the cynicism should be checked, ever so slightly.

President Bush spoke of "A very hopeful period. I'm very upbeat. The key thing is there are partners in peace."

This is certainly true.

Palestinian and Israeli politicians and leaders are talking to one another, on a daily basis.

They may not be resolving much, at least publicly.

But this time last year, contacts were few and far between.

That, at least, has changed.

The Americans are positive about the Palestinian leadership.

They clearly trust Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Abbas spoke of the years during which the two sides did not talk.

Now he said "we are extending our hand to be partners in the peace process".

Two views

Traditionally the Americans have accepted the Israeli paradigm - that it is Palestinian terrorism that causes the problem, and which must first be stopped before there can be any progress on peace.

Today Mahmoud Abbas put across the Palestinian viewpoint.

Funeral of a settler shot dead in the West Bank
Israel blames Palestinian leaders for failing to curb the violence

He said peace could not be brought through building walls and checkpoints.

And the Americans seem to accept that neither viewpoint can be dismissed.

You do not, however, judge progress in the Middle East by press conferences alone.

We do not know what was said by the two leaders behind closed doors, what promises they made to one another.

After all it is not every day the Palestinian leader is invited to the White House.

Whether Mahmoud Abbas feels he has gained anything, will doubtless emerge in the coming days.

He knows the Americans are still expecting him to rein in the gunmen and militant groups - something he maintains is very difficult at this stage.

He also feels that the Palestinians' best chance is to curry favour with the Americans, as Israel has done over the years.

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