On Mideast trip, Bush hopes to propel historic Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking
In Jerusalem Wednesday, the president called for two democracies, Israel and Palestine, to live side by side.
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But neither American, Israeli, or Palestinian officials appear to expect any kind of great shift, though there are hopes that this week's promise of the two sides resuming final status talks will translate into real momentum after the colorful fluttering of American flags disappears.Skip to next paragraph
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Many here noted that the possibility of a three-way meeting between Bush, Olmert, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was jettisoned, and that that didn't bode well for any breakthroughs.
"You have three leaders who are trying to repair their damaged reputations and the three of them saying, let's build each other up," Mr. Wolfsfeld adds.
Thursday will mark the first time a US president has ever met the Palestinian Authority leadership in their headquarters in Ramallah, which has become a temporary West Bank capital for Mr. Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad.
President Clinton visited in 1998 and came to the Gaza Strip, during which he addressed the Palestinian parliament and applauded the move of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) to cancel a section of their charter calling for Israel's destruction.
At the time, Clinton was able to claim a role at having brought Israelis and Palestinians back to the table at Wye River, and having developed a political persona around the image of a president intimately and personally involved in the ins and outs of Middle East peacemaking.
Neither Presidents George H.W. Bush nor Reagan visited Israel or the Palestinian territories while in office.
So far, Bush's Middle East legacy has been defined by Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There's a sense of Bush making a victory lap without a victory," says Michael Oren, a historian at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the author, most recently, of "Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776-present."
"He hasn't been engaged here and now he's here very late in the game and he's getting engaged, and in a very limited way," Mr. Oren says. "To the degree that the visit has to do with Israel-Palestine, it's really about Iran," he adds. "On the level of grand strategy you want to get some sort of stability to better deal with Iranian threat."
US officials say that Bush, who is accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will make it clear to Israel that he opposes the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank as an obstacle to peace and will remind Olmert of his promise to remove illegal settlement outposts.
Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip made it clear that Bush's trip here would not impinge upon their attacks on Israel, and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) sent a similar message. Palestinians launched approximately 10 rockets into southern Israel Wednesday, with one of them hitting a house. Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in Gaza, which the IDF says was aimed at the source of the rocket fire.