ISRAEL: Bush celebrates and says goodbye
President Bush arrived in Israel today to help celebrate the Jewish State's 60th anniversary and possibly help nudge along the (so far lackluster) Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations he launched last fall.
With Bush's time in office winding down, Israeli observers sound genuinely nostalgic to see him go, and some are already fretting about Israel's future with someone else in the White House.
An editorial in the Jerusalem Post this week declared: "Of all the US presidents over the past 60 years, it is hard to think of a better friend to Israel than George W. Bush."
He'll meet several times with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose own longevity in office is being questioned due to shaky popularity, a fragile coalition and an accelerating corruption investigation against him. One Israeli columnist dubbed this "a meeting of the lame ducks."
Bush is likely to hear complaints from Palestinians that his schedule here reflects his administration's loyalties and sympathies. Bush has no plans to travel to the West Bank and will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later this week in Cairo, but not in Ramallah.
On the same day as Palestinians throughout Israel, the occupied West Bank and the besieged Hamas-run Gaza Strip will commemorate the 60th anniversary of "The Catastrophe," Bush will be addressing the Israeli Knesset.
Bush is also likely to hear a lot in the coming days about pardoning convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard before he leaves office. The issue is expected to be quietly brought up by Israeli officials, and pro-Pollard activist groups, as the picture below shows, are not-so-quietly doing the same.
In an interview with Israel's Channel 10 before leaving the U.S., Bush was diligently noncommittal when asked if he had received a formal request to pardon Pollard and whether he was considering it.
BUSH: We are constantly analyzing cases. There's been no change in the government's attitude at this point.
BUSH: No change.
Q: But your -- did you get such a request?
BUSH: Oh, yes, constantly.
—Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem
Photo: Ashraf Khalil