Well, Bush is pretty clear about it
Yesterday there was a lot of back and forth, both here and elsewhere, about what Secretary Rice may or may not have said and may or may not have meant about whether the Palestinians need to take the next step (or a next step) in response to the unilateral Israeli move of leaving Gaza.
As I wrote in one of my comments, reasonable people can certainly differ on what Ms. Rice said or meant. The question of whether the Times "Dowdified" her quote (and I continue to think there was a bit of that going on) is a side issue to the more pressing question of what it was that Rice actually meant.
But today President Bush has been quite clear on the subject. Reuter's reports (via LGF), that Bush, in his radio address:
...put pressure on the Palestinians on Saturday to respond to the Israeli pullout from Gaza and portions of the West Bank by cracking down on terrorism..."Now that Israel has withdrawn, the way forward is clear. The Palestinians must show the world that they will fight terrorism and govern in a peaceful way," Bush said.
So it seems that Bush--at least for today--is placing the ball in the Palestinian court. He seems to be demanding the quid pro quo about which Rice was somewhat equivocal.
As for Rice's previous remarks, and their correct interpretation? It's a bit like reading tea leaves, and there are quite a few possibilities. Either Judith of Kesher Talk is correct, and Rice is playing "bad cop" to Bush's "good cop," or Rice and Bush are not in agreement on this, or Rice is on the same page as Bush and has been misinterpreted by the NY Times, or the whole thing is in a state of flux and even Bush and Rice don't quite know what her position is.
Whatever Bush or Rice say, I would be extremely surprised if the Palestinians actually followed through with positive action. And if that doesn't happen, it's all "mere rhetoric." But rhetoric still matters somewhat, because it sets the tone of the policy expectations for the region.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. The US can't force the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and hatred as a way of life. But we can stop rewarding it or ignoring it, and this type of statement from Bush (if he keeps at it), is at least the equivalent of "leading the horse to water." The rest is up to the horse.
I can only hope that the administration gets clear and remains clear on this score. And even if its a game of "good cop, bad cop," each cop should aim to be consistent about his/her message.
[ADDENDUM: By the way, I was pretty careful about this one. I didn't take Reuters' word for it; I went to the actual text of Bush's radio address to check up on them. They passsed with flying colors; he said what they said he said. Congratulations, Reuters!]