Bush visit played down by Jerusalem

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

US PRES­I­DENT Ge­orge Bush’s visit to Is­rael next week will be mainly cer­e­mo­nial and there is lit­tle ex­pec­ta­tion that it will achieve a break­through in the peace process, ac­cord­ing to diplo­matic sources.

Mr Bush will ar­rive in Is­rael on Wed­nes­day with his wife Laura for a two-day visit — his sec­ond this year — de­voted mainly to Is­rael’s 60th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

The pres­i­dent’s first stop will be at the Knes­set, where he will ad­dress a spe­cial ses­sion. Also on his itin­er­ary is a tour of the moun­tain­top fortress of Masada, ac­com­pa­nied by Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert; meet­ings with groups of new im­mi­grants and young peo­ple of dif­fer­ent back­grounds; and the key­note speech at the Pres­i­dent’s Con­fer­ence hosted by Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres.

Al­though he will also hold work­ing meet­ings with Is­rael’s lead­er­ship, diplo­matic sources told the JC that they were skep­ti­cal about any diplo­matic ad­vance tak­ing place dur­ing the visit. US Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice vis­ited Jerusalem this week for talks with Mr Olmert and Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, urg­ing them to present clear so­lu­tions for the main is­sues be­ing ne­go­ti­ated be­tween the two sides, but few de­tails were forth­com­ing.

“Rice’s agenda is to try to show some­thing for all her ef­forts in the last six months un­til the elec­tions in the US,” an Is­raeli diplo­matic source told the JC. “But we don’t be­lieve that Bush is as ea­ger.

“He re­fused last week to put pres­sure on Is­rael when Ab­bas met him in Wash­ing­ton.

“He doesn’t want any un­pleas­ant- ness in his visit and won’t make things dif­fi­cult for Olmert.”

An­other fac­tor is the new in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Is­rael over al­leged bribes to Mr Olmert, which is be­ing watched closely by the Pales­tini­ans and Amer­i­cans.

Nei­ther party will get into more se­ri­ous dis­cus­sions over a pos­si­ble deal while Mr Olmert’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture is so un­sure.

PHOTO: AP

Pres­i­dent Bush ( left) with Ehud Olmert dur­ing his visit ear­lier this year

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