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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.'

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"I don't think that anything is going to happen here in terms of peace because of Mr. Bush's beliefs," says Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Birzeit University near Ramallah, after hearing Bush's address. In the Palestinian territories Thursday, Palestinians marked the nakba, or the catastrophe, which is their commemoration of the Arab exodus that coincided with the founding of Israel.

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"His speech tells me that we're not going to have a settlement to the conflict, and these things [are] going to be entangled for many years to come. He said that Israel will be around in 60 years, and that the Palestinians 'deserve' to have a state, so maybe we should wait another 60 years," Dr. Jarbawi says, with irony in his voice.

"What he is offering the Palestinians is the Israeli position," Jarbawi adds, "a state of leftovers. Israel can decide what it wants to eat from the West Bank, and will leave the rest of it to the Palestinians."

At the Knesset Thursday, it was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who sounded the most enthusiastic about reaching a peace breakthrough while both he and Bush are still in office, promising to present a deal for a two-state solution.

"When we reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, God willing, one which is based on your vision of a two-state solution, it will be brought before this house," Mr. Olmert said, speaking just before Bush. "This future peace agreement, I assure you, will be approved by a majority of this house and by the Israeli public," he added.

Several right-wing members of Knesset walked out of the parliamentary chamber as Olmert spoke, a reminder of the complications the Israeli premier faces, both in politics and in a new criminal probe. In a widening inquiry, Israel's police fraud unit is examining allegations that Olmert received hundreds of thousands of dollars from 1993 to 2005 from Morris Talansky, a business mogul from New York.

The investigations have overshadowed the 60th anniversary celebration and, even amid the fanfare of Bush's visit and the presence of hundreds of other dignitaries in Israel, has the political circuit awash with talk of calling for early elections in a bid to replace Olmert. Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, the defense minister, are the two most often mentioned as leaders waiting in the wings for a return to power. Both men served as prime ministers in the 1990s.

Bush will be in Israel until Friday, when he flies to Saudi Arabia, and then to Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, over the weekend, in order to attend the World Economic Forum. There, he will be meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to push forward peace efforts. But the fact Bush will not have met any Palestinian leaders during his 48-hour visit here, in conjunction with the speech he delivered at the Knesset, is likely to underscore for the Arab world that the main emphasis of Bush's visit here was celebrating the relationship between Israel and the US first, and pushing forward the peace process a distant second.

Even some of the Israelis from the hawkish side of the spectrum noted with some wonderment the extent to which Bush has extended a message of warmth, but one devoid of the "tough love" that often characterized the era of President Clinton, who worked hard at getting Israel and its Arab neighbors to reach watershed peace deals.

"He didn't remind us even once of the words 'the Annapolis Process,' and I don't think it was coincidental," said Gideon Saar, a Knesset member from the right-wing Likud party. "He spoke about peace in Israel almost like it was something that will come at the End of Days."

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