Pictures Of The Honorable President Bush On His Mideast Tour

13 01 2008

 George W Bush at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday, 9 January 2008

George W Bush at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday, 9 January 2008

 

Mr Bush was joined on the red carpet by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (R) and Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) as he was greeted by religious leaders.

Helicopter carrying Mr Bush flies over Jerusalem on Wednesday 9 January 2008

As Marine One, the helicopter carrying Mr Bush prepared to land in Jerusalem, security was at its tightest since Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel in 2000.

President Bush greets a group of children who performed a song upon his arrival at the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres, Wednesday, 9 January 2008, in Jerusalem

Palestinian and Israeli leaders pledged to tackle core issues dividing them before Mr Bush arrived – and was treated to a song by these children at the Israeli president’s residence.

A young girl hands a rose to President Bush as he arrives for a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Wednesday, 9 January 2008

A young girl handed Mr Bush a rose as he arrived to meet with Mr Peres (L), who called on Mr Bush to “stop the madness” of Iran and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

Workers in a print house prepare posters for a Hamas rally in Gaza City, Wednesday 9 January 2008

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Bush trip today aims to push Mideast peace

9 01 2008

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush headed to the Middle East on Tuesday, aiming to nurture Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in the face of deep skepticism while trying to rally Arab opposition to Iran.

Once wary of hands-on Middle East diplomacy, Bush will make his first presidential visit to Israel and the West Bank in a bid to shore up fragile negotiations aimed at forging a peace treaty by the end of the year.

The chances of a deal before Bush leaves office in January 2009 appear slim, and no breakthroughs are expected during three days of talks following up on an international conference he hosted in Annapolis, Maryland, in November.

But in Israel and Arab countries that Bush will visit during his weeklong tour, Iran and its growing regional influence will also loom large.

Bush hopes to enlist Arab support to help contain Iran, a goal underscored by a confrontation between American and Iranian vessels in the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend.

On the first leg of his trip, Bush will nudge Israelis and Palestinians to move forward in talks already bogged down in recriminations since their leaders pledged at Annapolis to try to reach a two-state deal in 2008.

“What has to happen in order for there to be a peaceful settlement of a long-standing dispute is … outlines of a state clearly defined,” Bush said at the White House. “So that at some point in time, the Palestinians who agree that Israel ought to exist and agree that the state ought to live side-by-side with Israel in peace have something to be for.”

But doubts remain about the seriousness of Bush’s commitment, his ability to act as an even-handed broker and his chance of succeeding where so many predecessors have failed.





Bush Calls Abbas, Olmert to White House

28 11 2007

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Just 24 hours after securing an agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume long-stalled peace talks, President Bush invited the pair to the White House to ceremonially inaugurate the first formal, direct negotiations in seven years.

Capping an intense flurry of diplomacy that salvaged a joint Israeli-Palestinian agreement at nearby Annapolis, Md., to launch a fresh round of talks, Bush planned to meet separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and finally to get them together for an afternoon session and declaring the talks formally under way.

After meeting their own low expectations for the Annapolis conference amid intense skepticism, Bush administration officials crowed with delight.

“President Bush has invited them both to the White House tomorrow to inaugurate those negotiations, and the two sides have agreed that they will return to the region and meet on December 12th to continue the process,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters late Tuesday.

Bush, along with Rice, had earlier salvaged a “joint understanding” between the Israelis and Palestinians, who had remained far apart on the details of the statement until the last minute.

But with prodding from the American side, Olmert and Abbas – troubled leaders with fragile mandates for peace – told international backers and skeptical Arab neighbors they are ready for hard bargaining toward an independent Palestinian state in the 14 months Bush has left in office.

“This is the beginning of the process, not the end of it,” Bush said after reading from the just-completed text the statement that took weeks to negotiate and yet sets only the vaguest terms for the talks to come.

“I pledge to devote my effort during my time as president to do all I can to help you achieve this ambitious goal,” Bush told Abbas and Olmert as the three stood together in the U.S. Naval Academy’s majestic Memorial Hall. “I give you my personal commitment to support your work with the resources and resolve of the American government.”

The two Mideast leaders were circumspect but optimistic.

“I had many good reasons not to come here,” Olmert told diplomats, including those from Arab states that do not recognize Israel like Saudi Arabia and Syria. “Memory of failures in the near and distant past weighs heavy upon us.”

Abbas, meanwhile, recited a familiar list of Palestinian demands, including calls for Israel to end the expansion of Jewish settlements on land that could be part of an eventual state called Palestine and to release some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

“Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other,” Abbas said. “It is a joint interest for us and you. Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us.”

Bush has held Mideast peacemaking at arms’ length for most of his nearly seven years in office, arguing that conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories were not right for a more energetic role. Arab allies, among others, have warned that the Palestinian plight underlies other conflicts and feeds grievances across the Middle East, and have urged the White House to do more.

Bush seemed to answer the criticism Tuesday, giving detailed reasons why the time is now. He said Israeli and Palestinian leaders are ready to make peace, that there is a wider and unifying fight against extremism fed by the Palestinian conflict and that he world understands the urgency of acting now.

Later, in an interview with The Associated Press, Bush spoke of the importance of giving beleaguered Palestinians something positive to look forward to – and he sketched a grim alternative.

Without a hopeful vision, he said, “it is conceivable that we could lose an entire generation – or a lot of a generation – to radicals and extremists. There has to be something more positive. And that is on the horizon today.”

Negotiating teams will hold their first session in the region in just two weeks, on Dec. 12, and Olmert and Abbas plan to continue one-on-one discussions they began earlier this year. In addition, many of the same nations and organizations attending Tuesday’s conference will gather again on Dec. 17 in Paris to raise money for the perpetually cash-strapped Palestinians.

To attract Arab backing, the Bush administration included a session in the conference devoted to “comprehensive” peace questions – a coded reference to other Arab disputes with Israel. Syria came to the conference intending to raise its claim to the strategic Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967, and Lebanon wanted to talk about its border dispute with Israel. Rice told reporters that Syria and Lebanon spoke up, but she gave no details.

But in a sign of the difficult road ahead, Abbas’ speech was immediately rejected by Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that stormed to power in the Gaza Strip in June, a month before Bush announced plans for the peace conference.

Hamas now governs the tiny territory and roughly a third of the people on whose behalf Abbas would negotiate a state. Hamas has refused to drop its pledge for Israel’s destruction, and the United States and Israel consider the group a terrorist organization.

Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters chanted “Death to America” in a Gaza City rally. The marchers, including women in black robes and full face veils, raised their index fingers heavenward in a sign of Islamic devotion, as they denounced the Annapolis conference as a sellout of Palestinian dreams. NorthJersey.com





Thousands of Jewish settlers protest against US talks

27 11 2007

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Several thousand Jewish settlers protested in Jerusalem on the eve of Tuesday’s meeting in the United States that aims to kick-start dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

During the protest organised by the Council of Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria on Monday, demonstrators brandished placards saying “Don’t feed Israel to the sharks” and “Hands off Israel — we are in God’s hands.”

“Never again a divided Jerusalem” read another.

The protesters, estimated by organisers to number 10,000, said no territorial concessions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem should be made to the Palestinians.

Tuesday’s meeting at Annapolis in Maryland “poses a real threat to Israel, because to sign any agreement with (Palestinian president) Mahmud Abbas will inevitably lead to Hamas taking power in Judea-Samaria” in the West Bank, Pinhas Wallerstein of the organisers told AFP.

The Islamist Hamas movement ousted the secular Fatah party of Abbas from the Gaza Strip in June after a week of deadly factional fighting.

From a podium set up several dozen metres (yards) from the home of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in Washington for the US-sponsored meeting, another organiser of the protest urged the premier not to make concessions.

“Olmert, you have no mandate to give up Israeli territory,” Shaul Goldstein said to applause from protesters who called on the prime minister to quit.

Right-wing MP Tzvi Handel told the protesters Olmert was “undoubtedly the most dangerous prime minister in the history of Israel.”

The peace conference in Annapolis will bring together more than 50 organisations and countries, including some 16 Arab nations.

MPs from government coalition party Yisrael Beitenu, which has 11 MPs in the 120-member Knesset, also attended the protest as did Zeev Elkin, who is a member of Olmert’s Kadima party.

Before Tuesday night’s protest thousands of settlers gathered at the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, to pray for failure at the Annapolis talks.

The settlers oppose any withdrawal by Israel from land occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.

They aim to prevent any repetition of what they called the “catastrophe” of a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which the settlers’ movement fiercely opposed. IC





Officials from 40 Nations at Mideast summit

27 11 2007

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — With a Mideast summit starting Tuesday in Maryland, Israeli and Palestinian officials worked late into the night trying to hammer out a joint agreement on how negotiations would move forward, diplomats from several delegations said.

But the two sides have not agreed on several issues and there was no guarantee that any work plan would be agreed upon, the diplomats said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was cautious but hopeful the parties could finish an agreement, diplomats said.

But Hamas leader Ismail Haniya denounced the Annapolis summit in a televised address Tuesday.

“The Palestinian people will not be bound by anything the Palestinian Authority agrees to in Annapolis,” he said.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Monday expressed hope and optimism that a renewed peace effort will emerge from the conference.

Hours apart, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to reporters alongside President Bush, following separate talks at the White House.

Abbas said he hoped the conference would trigger expanded negotiations with Israel that would lead to a permanent peace deal, calling the event a “historic initiative.”

Olmert explained to reporters that this visit was different “because we’re going to have lots of participants involved.”

“I hope we’re going to launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” said Olmert. “This will be a bilateral process but the international support is very important.”

Representatives of more than 40 countries, including a wide array of Arab nations such as Syria and Saudi Arabia, will attend the conference at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Monday night, Bush, Olmert and Abbas attended a dinner held by Rice.

In a toast at the dinner, Bush said Israeli and Palestinian leaders would need to make “difficult compromises” in order to achieve a breakthrough during the summit but gave his personal commitment to a renewed peace process between the two sides.

“The extremists and terrorists want our efforts to fail,” Bush said. “We offer a more hopeful vision of a Middle East growing in freedom and dignity and prosperity.”

The Bush administration is hoping the conference will trigger final status talks on major issues such as Jerusalem and Israeli borders.

U.S. officials are looking for a commitment by the Palestinians and Israelis to carry out previous agreements linked to the “road map” plan for Mideast peace.





Families of kidnapped Israeli soldiers united in their cause

21 11 2007

Shlomo Goldwasser’s voice trembles with a father’s anguish as he talks of his missing son.

“There is no school in the world to teach you what to do when your son is kidnapped,” he says.

 “We’re not the army. We have no weapons. There are no tools in my hand. The only thing we have is our story and I’m using it and going everywhere that I can to raise my voice so people can hear.”

Fifteen months ago, on July 12, 2006, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser, a just-married 31-year-old environmental engineer, had only a few hours left in his month-long tour of duty as an Israeli army reservist when his Humvee was attacked with anti-tank rockets by a squad of Hezbollah guerrillas who had slipped into Israel from Lebanon.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in the initial attack and Sergeant Goldwasser and another army reservist, Sergeant Eldad Regev, 26, were captured.

Both the Israeli soldiers are believed to have been seriously injured before their Hezbollah attackers kidnapped them and retreated into Lebanon.

When an Israeli tank tried to pursue the Hezbollah guerrillas across the border, it was blown up by a roadside bomb, killing another four Israelis.

Gloating over their assault, Hezbollah spokesmen admitted to holding the two Israeli reservists and said they were taken in order to secure the release of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel.

But rather than trigger negotiations, the abductions prompted an immediate retaliation from Israel and ignited a 34-day war with Hezbollah that left hundreds dead and injured, thousands homeless and the Middle East boiling with tension.

When the fighting finally ended, with United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1701 ordering a UN-supervised ceasefire, the world body demanded the “unconditional release of prisoners.”
Udi Goldwasser’s family is still waiting to hear what happened to him.

“We know nothing,” says Mr. Goldwasser, a 60-year-old shipping contractor. “There is no information at all about their condition or anything. No one has visited them, not the Red Cross or any other humanitarian organization. Till now there is no information whatsoever. They don’t let them contact anyone. They isolate them and until now we know nothing about our sons.”

But rather than worry and wait, the Goldwasser and Regev families have joined forces with the relatives of yet another Israeli soldier, 20-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized by Hamas and spirited into Gaza just 18 days before the Hezbollah raids that captured Sgt. Goldwasser and Sgt. Regev, to tour the world campaigning for their sons’ release.

“We’ve become one big family,” says Omri Avni, Sgt. Goldwasser’s father-in-law. “It’s quite amazing. It took us a few hours to get organized, But within 48 hours from the abduction of Ehud and Eldad, the three families were together and we’ve been together ever since. We found it very, very effective. You can do more. You can share your work every day. You share your hope. It doesn’t fall on just one man.”

The relatives have launched rallies, distributed petitions, met with world leaders, staged protests and conducted video news conferences all around the globe trying to remind people of their sons’ plight.

They recently staged an International Day of Solidarity with video-linked rallies in 70 cities around the world to mark the 500th day of Cpl. Shalit’s captivity.

Jewish synagogues worldwide have been asked to recite a special prayer for the soldiers’ release and pictures of the three abducted men now hang in Rabin Park in Paris.

Last week, a dozen Arab Israelis joined Cpl. Shalit’s father, Noam Shalit, in a rally for the release of the kidnapped men in the Arab village of Kfar Kassem, at which they pleaded for the kidnappers “to act like human beings” and release the young men.

Mr. Goldwasser, Mr. Avni and Zvi Regev, Sgt. Regev’s father, are in Canada this week to promote their sons’ cause and meet with Members of Parliament in Ottawa. They will speak tonight at the Shaarei Shomayin Congregation at 470 Glencairn Ave. in Toronto

“We can’t lose hope,” Mr. Goldwasser says. “We are travelling all over the world trying to get the fulfilment of UN Resolution 1701. That is a demand to free our sons, unconditionally. We know that they are alive and we want them home.” National Post