In recent months, Bush has traveled extensively around the world, which he didn’t do much during his term in office. He arrived in the Middle East four months ago, visited Africa, hopped to Europe, and is now back in the Holy Land for the Presidential Conference and for another meeting with a prime minister whose approval rating is as soft as pudding.
President Bush does not intend to press Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, yet during his visit he will likely express his vision for peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Despite the festive declarations regarding understandings being reached by the end of 2008, in a talk with Israeli reporters in Washington Bush made clear that he intends to hand over the Iranian issue and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the next president, who will enter the White House in January of 2009.
Bush’s visit to Israel will provide two festive speeches on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary, a trip with his wife Laura to Masada, and nice gestures that the uncle from America is able, and apparently willing, to make. Bush is a true friend of Israel, but we should not be expecting great changes during his time in Israel – aside from road closures perhaps.
So what will happen to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Observers in the US and in Israel still remember the efforts of former President Clinton to achieve peace at the end of his term in office. At the time, charges were made that he was attempting to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Yet President Bush admitted that he has no intention of exerting last-moment pressure on Israel in order to secure a deal with the Palestinians, but rather, he only wants to convince the parties of his vision. That will be his objective in a special speech to be delivered at the Knesset. If vision counts, I hope that at the end of the day people will say I have a vision on the way to handle the radicals, he said.
Give Ehud a chance
Bush knows well that his good friend Ehud Olmert cannot do much these days while facing serious investigations and a thin coalition. The American president did say he believes in the right for a fair hearing and in giving Olmert a chance, and provided his non-judicial view: “I have great relations with the prime minister, I find him to be a frank man, an honest man.”
In the past, Bush “bought into” Ariel Sharon’s and PM Olmert’s demographic argument and unequivocally backed the establishment of a Palestinian state. The only way for Israel to exist in the long-term passes via the establishment of a Palestinian state, the president said, adding that he found this to be a powerful idea and saying that he believes that talks can be successful with US help.
And what does Bush intend to do before he leaves the White House with regards to Iran and its nuclear program? Bush, as well as the presidential candidates, keeps all options on the table, including the military option. However, at the Oval Office, Bush said that America will attempt to resolve the issue diplomatically, or in other words, through sanctions.