Bush visit played down by Jerusalem


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.

President Bush with Ehud Olmert during his visit earlier this year

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 unpleasantness 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.

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