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Bush pays second visit to Israel

The president attends a gala at the start of a trip seen by many as symbolic and unlikely to yield real results.

May 15, 2008|From the Chicago Tribune

JERUSALEM — President Bush on Wednesday began his second visit to Israel as president against a backdrop of sober questions about the potential for the Israeli-Palestinian accord he seeks this year.

The White House maintains that Bush, starting with his declaration in 2002 of the need for an independent Palestinian state -- the first by an American president -- methodically pursued policies that have led to the negotiations underway.

Yet questions about the administration's focus, the slow pace of the talks, the unrelenting violence surrounding them and the inability of weakened leaders to deliver serious concessions has cast doubt that anything will be resolved here before he leaves office.

Bush also attended with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert an evening gala related to Israel's 60th anniversary.

Olmert, under the shadow of a new scandal in which he has denied bribery allegations, embraced Bush at the event, telling him, "You are an unusual person. You are an unusual leader. And you are an unusual friend of the people of Israel."

But many Israeli and Palestinian commentators are calling the Bush visit more symbolic than substantive, a reflection of what many in the region view as his administration's limited engagement over the years in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bush so far has left "a very mixed legacy" in the Middle East, said Itamar Rabinovich, an expert on the region at Tel Aviv University.

Bush correctly identified the Iranian threat, tried to promote democracy, backed a moderate government in Lebanon and toppled a tyrant in Iraq, Rabinovich said, but "there was no follow-through."

"He belatedly began dealing with the Palestinian issue, but it was more administering first aid rather than anything serious," he said. The current visit comes too late, he said.

"People don't do business with outgoing presidents," Rabinovich said.

On the Palestinian side, where Israel's birthday is marked as the naqba, or disaster, analysts criticize what they view as the Bush administration's bias in favor of the Israelis, which they say has prevented Washington from applying the pressures necessary to move peace talks forward.

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