"President Bush's statement that the establishment of a Palestinian state will not be in his era was spontaneous and it was not pre-planned," Abbas told the official Petra news agency on Monday, on arrival from neighbouring Egypt.

 

"Throughout our meetings and discussions with the American president, he did not refer to this postponement, but what I understood from him afterwards is that his statement was spontaneous and that he just said it like that," Abbas added.

 

"The American president ... hopes that a Palestinian state would be established in two years, a year, or less," he said. "But in no way that he meant dragging it for three or four years."

 

On Thursday, Bush said after White House talks with Abbas that he had never been more confident of peace between Israel and the Palestinians but "old feuds aren't settled easily" and it may not happen before he leaves office in 2009.

 

Bush statement

 

"It takes a while," Bush said as he lauded Abbas, his aspirations for a Palestinian state and his plans for legislative elections in January.

 

"We will work hard to lay that foundation so that the process becomes irreversible," Bush said.

 

Bush told Abbas on Thursday 'old
feuds aren't settled easily'

In June 2002, Bush set 2005 as his goal for Palestinian statehood.

 

Abbas on Monday travelled to Cairo and Amman to discuss with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II his earlier talks with Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

 

Egyptian presidential spokesman Sulayman Awwad said Abbas had told Mubarak of his talks last week with Bush who, in a sign of support for the Palestinian leader, indicated afterwards that he was not insisting on the exclusion of resistance group Hamas from the Palestinian elections in January.

Israel had been pushing for Hamas' exclusion, to which Abbas is opposed.

 

Changed stand

 

But recently, Israel dropped its campaign to ban Hamas from Palestinian parliamentary elections, admitting defeat after Bush pointedly skipped repeating the demand in a public appearance with Abbas last week.

 

Israel says it is still opposed to Hamas participation, because its charter calls for destruction of Israel, but it will take no steps to stop Hamas' participation.

 

Abbas briefed Egypt's President
Mubarak on his recent meetings

Abbas said Bush agreed that "Hamas is a Palestinian movement, a part of the Palestinian people, and must take part at the elections".

 

"These are the bases of democracy," he said.

 

However, Bush warned that continuing violence by Palestinian groups could undermine the prospects of an independent Palestinian state.

 

Abbas asked Mubarak to exert more effort with world leaders to help the Palestinians economically after Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last month, Awwad said.

 

Abbas was scheduled to return to the West Bank on Tuesday.