NEWS, ANALYSIS & OPINION: Bush heads to Middle East

Remember him? Bush begins Middle East tour

Voters in the United States may have switched their attention to the contest to find his successor, but George Bush will embark on an ambitious nine-day tour of the Middle East tomorrow in a last desperate effort to salvage a legacy from two terms in office overshadowed by a catastrophic foreign policy that has earned him the distinction of being one of the worst presidents in the country’s history.

The Bush legacy will not be peace in the Middle East nor an end to conflict in Iraq, but it could be a political earthquake among voters so dismayed by the mess he has made of America’s foreign policy and fearful of economic recession that they are deserting his party in droves.

As he prepares to board a plane for Israel and wrap himself in the tattered flag of victory in Iraq, Mr Bush’s real legacy to the American people is evident in the disillusionment on display in New Hampshire. [complete article]

See also, Army of 8,000 to protect George Bush visit (Telegraph).

Israel’s false friends

Once again, as the presidential campaign season gets underway, the leading candidates are going to enormous lengths to demonstrate their devotion to the state of Israel and their steadfast commitment to its “special relationship” with the United States.

Each of the main contenders emphatically favors giving Israel extraordinary material and diplomatic support — continuing the more than $3 billion in foreign aid each year to a country whose per capita income is now 29th in the world. They also believe that this aid should be given unconditionally. None of them criticizes Israel’s conduct, even when its actions threaten U.S. interests, are at odds with American values or even when they are harmful to Israel itself. In short, the candidates believe that the U.S. should support Israel no matter what it does. [complete article]

A hostile president

George Bush is coming to Israel this week. He will take pleasure in his visit. One can assume that there are few prime ministers with a giant photo of themselves with the U.S. president hanging on the wall in their home, as our Ehud Olmert boasted last week that he does, to his exalted guest, the comic Eli Yatzpan. There are also few other countries where the lame duck from Washington would not be greeted with mass demonstrations; instead, Israel is making great efforts to welcome him graciously. The man who has wreaked such ruin upon the world, upon his country, and upon us is such a welcome guest only in Israel. [complete article]

Israel warns of Iranian missile peril for Europe

Iran is developing nuclear missiles capable of reaching beyond its enemies in the Middle East to Europe, President George Bush will be warned when he visits Israel and the Palestinian territories for the first time since entering the White House. [complete article]

Israel to brief George Bush on options for Iran strike

Israeli intelligence is understood to agree that the [nuclear weapon] project was halted around the time of America’s invasion of Iraq, but has “rock solid” information that it has since started up again.

While security officials are reluctant to reveal all their intelligence, fearing that leaks could jeopardise the element of surprise in any future attack, they are expected to present the president with fresh details of Iran’s enrichment of uranium – which could be used for civil or military purposes – and the development of missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. [complete article]

Israel not honoring pledge, Olmert says

Israel has failed to keep its pledge to stop enlarging Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged in an interview published Friday, addressing a criticism he expects to hear next week from President Bush.

“Every year all the settlements in all the territories [of the West Bank] continue to grow,” Olmert told the Jerusalem Post. “There is a certain contradiction in this between what we’re actually seeing and what we ourselves promised. . . . We have obligations related to settlements and we will honor them.” [complete article]

Nudged by Bush, Israel talks of removing illegal outposts

Pressed by President Bush to keep promises to destroy illegal settler outposts, Israeli leaders said Friday that they hoped to take action after his visit to the region next week.

The awkward exchange through the news media exemplified the importance of Israel’s relationship to the United States and the way in which Washington can sometimes push it to take controversial steps that benefit the Palestinians, who have little diplomatic weight of their own. [complete article]

Hamas confirms: Swiss probed possibility of talks with Israel

The “Swiss Document”, as it was dubbed Tuesday by Former Palestinian Foreign Minister and top Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Zahar, in fact exists. This refers to a deceleration of intent, drafted by Swiss officials, paving the way for negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) confirmed the existence of the “Swiss Document” Monday, and stated that the Swiss had mediated direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas. In his comments Tuesday, however, al-Zahar noted that there were no direct talks between Israel and Hamas. [complete article]

Just going to work, Palestinians and Israelis travel different roads

Before they set out for work each morning, neighbors Naim Darwish, a Palestinian Muslim, and Jacob Steinmetz, an Israeli Jew, begin their days in quiet meditation.

In the pre-dawn chill, Darwish sets his Muslim prayer rug on the floor facing Mecca. In the soft morning light, Steinmetz throws on his prayer shawl and turns toward Jerusalem. Then the lives of these West Bank neighbors diverge.

It takes Steinmetz about half an hour to drive and hitchhike the 20 miles to the West Bank office where he works as an Israeli government attorney. If he’s lucky, it takes Darwish two-and-a-half hours to travel the 30 miles to his computer engineering job at a Palestinian high-tech company in Ramallah. [complete article]

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