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In Israel, Bush outlines a blunt vision for the Middle East

At the Knesset on Thursday, the president spoke in visionary terms of Israel's future, saying that the core of the current regional conflict 'was an ancient battle between good and evil.'

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 16, 2008

President Bush (r.) with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Masada on Thursday, the same day Bush delivered a speech at the Knesset feting the Jewish state.

Susan Walsh/AP

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President Bush, at the height of his Wednesday-to-Friday visit here to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel, stood before the Knesset and laid out a vision for the Middle East 60 years down the road: an Israel that still stands tall, lives next to a Palestinian state, and is surrounded by countries where democracy and human rights reign.

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But his shorter-term vision, particularly in terms of his view of how things look today, sounded like a return to the stark rhetoric he became famous for in 2002 when he described Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an axis of evil.

His prepared speech was also laden with religious imagery, mapping a spiritual and ideological picture of a close US-Israel relationship that seemed unprecedented in a speech by any US president, analysts say.

"This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is the ancient battle between good and evil," Mr. Bush said Thursday in his official speech at the Knesset, Israel's parliament. "The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men," he said. "No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers."

In the speech, Bush offered unwavering support for Israel, referring to its enemies in Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as dark forces that Israel and the West should not be fooled into "appeasing," evoking the world's appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s.

"No nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction," Bush said, a reference to suggestions from some mediators – such as former President Jimmy Carter in a recent mission here – that Israel should negotiate with Hamas, which controls Gaza. The comment was also seen as aimed at Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama who has suggested that the US sit down at the table with Iran and Syria.

"There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong," Bush said. "As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously," he added, after mentioning Mr. Ahmadinejad's suggestions that Israel ought to be "wiped off the map."

"Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," Bush said, engendering a long round of applause.

Analysts here were quick to note some of the words that he did not mention. These include the "Annapolis Process," which he launched last November, and Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, which Palestinians view as one of the primary obstacles to peace.