Some say they believe the bulk of the money promised by Bush will be devoted to strengthening the Palestinian Authority's ability to suppress resistance groups, such as Hamas.

Speaking before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, the US president said he remained committed to the creation of a Palestinian state residing side by side in peace with Israel.

"The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach - and America will help them achieve that goal."

Bush also said he was asking Congress for $350 million in aid to bolster security and economic development in the Palestinian autonomous enclaves.

Undefined state

Palestinian foreign ministry officials avoided direct comment on Bush's speech, saying they were still studying its content.

But lawmaker Hasan Khraisha said the US president repeated the "same vague and abstract words" about an undefined Palestinian state which he made nearly three years ago.

For Palestinians, the reality of
occupation remains unchanged

"I really can't find anything meaningful in his speech. He still thinks that the problem lies with so-called terrorism, not the decades-old Israeli occupation of our country," he told Aljazeera.net.

"We heard him before say he would see to it that a viable Palestinian state would see the light in 2005, now he is making another prediction, which is actually another deception."

Khraisha added: "I say deception because everything on the ground remains unchanged. The Israeli army continues to torment and humiliate our people, and Israel continues to steal our land and convert our cities and villages to detention camps, and Bush is saying nothing and doing nothing about this.

"On the contrary he continues to speak about terror."

A more hostile reaction to Bush's speech came from Sakhr Habash, a high-ranking Fatah leader and close aide and confidant of the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.

He said: "Bush must understand that we are seeking freedom, not economic prosperity under occupation and Jewish enslavement."

Brazen embrace

Habash said Bush "could keep his millions" because the Palestinian people won't accept anything less than a total eradication of the "nefarious Israeli occupation of our homeland".

He accused President Bush of "trying to blur his brazen embrace of Israeli settlement expansion and policy of cornering the Palestinians".

"We thank you for your economic support, but frankly, Mr President, economic prosperity and military occupation can't coexist. One is the antithesis of the other"

Azmi Shuaibi,
Palestinian Minister

Palestinian minister Azmi Shuaibi said Palestinians were too disillusioned by past American promises to believe anything said by US administrations.

"If I were to meet Bush, I would tell him the following: Mr President, the root of all evils in this part of the world is the Israeli occupation of our homeland and enslavement of our people," he told Aljazeera.net.

"We thank you for your economic support, but frankly, Mr President, economic prosperity and military occupation can't coexist. One is the antithesis of the other. Poverty and economic degradation are the result of the occupation."

Shuaibi added that Bush, instead of speaking in abstract terms about democracy and Palestinian statehood, should ask Israel to simply implement the relevant UN resolutions.

"If he is honest enough and serious enough about peace and democracy in this part of the world, he should do that, because nothing else will work," Shuaibi said.

Barrier overlooked

The Bush speech made no mention of repressive Israeli measures against the Palestinians, including the building of a gigantic part-wall-part-fence barrier deep in the West Bank.

The promised US aid is seen as a
gesture of support for Abu Mazin

The barrier, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague last year, has effectively reduced many Palestinian towns to virtual detention camps and is being used by the Israeli authorities as a pretext to effect wholesale confiscations of Palestinian-owned land and property in West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, Edward Walker, said the promised US aid to Palestinians was a gesture of support for Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.

"It is a measure of their effort to avoid what happened the last time, when Abu Mazin became prime minister in which nobody did anything for him and he quickly lost credibility and couldn't stand up to Arafat," he said.

However, Shuaibi said "money alone" wouldn't help Abu Mazin.

"Even if they gave him all the money in the world, this wouldn't help him, because the problem is the Israeli occupation of our homeland."