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President Bush's whirlwind trip to Israel - his first as President - is now history. The question in many people's minds - including many who voted Republican in 2000 and 2004 is why he made the trip in the first place? The stock answer is that he was aiming to consolidate the "progress" made at November's Annapolis conference.
The deeper issue to contemplate is found in the political labyrinth that is contemporary Jerusalem, not the White House. The current Israeli government is in deep trouble. Even President Bush acknowledged this when he pleaded with the two right-of-center coalition partners to protect Olmert in this critical time.
Embracing a continuation of the disastrous results of the Gazan Disengagement policy in the West Bank and talking seriously about dividing Jerusalem, the prime minister continues to bottom out in the polls. A recent Keevon Poll showed that the overwhelming majority of Israelis reject the proposed division of Jerusalem and a return to the 1967 ("Auschwitz") borders.
The long-awaited Winograd Committee Report on the Government's handling of the 2006 Second Lebanese War is due out on January 30th and there is little doubt that it will excoriate the Government for malfeasance and most of those responsible have resigned, except for PM Olmert who alone refused to read the handwriting on the wall.
President Bush courageously stood nearly alone among world leaders during the fateful summer weeks of 2006 granting Israel the time it needed to dispatch the Hizbullah aggressors and teach a long overdue lesson to its Iranian and Syrian patrons. But Olmert and his government squandered that opportunity and left Israel in a more compromised and vulnerable position.
George W. Bush and his Republican Party, by all accounts, are the closest friends Israel has ever had in the United States. The President this week explicitly called Israel a Jewish state and that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. This signals a complete rejection of the Palestinian right of return that derailed the Clinton Camp David talks in 2000 and as the Jerusalem Post stated in a recent editorial the statement now puts the burden on the Arabs to recognize the national rights of the Jewish People.
Moreover, it was Republican Congressional Whip, Eric Cantor (R-Va) who sponsored legislation to protect the Temple Mount against archaeological destruction by its Palestinian "protectors", even as the Israeli government remained silent and has joined millions from all over the world to safeguard Jerusalem's unity, despite the threats of Israel's government to turn over half the city to Palestinian control.
It was President who informed the Israeli government that the Clinton proposals at the height of Oslo and Camp David that delineated even which streets in Jerusalem would be transferred to the Palestinians were "off the table." The April 14, 2004 letter from President Bush that was received by Israel as a part of the deal made for the Gaza Disengagement, introduced new elements into the peace process that completely superseded the Clinton proposals. The letter ensured that Israel not return to 1967 borders as there are new facts on the ground and most ensure Israel's security with "defensible borders" which PM Sharon explained to include the Jordan Valley
But even George Bush cannot be more solicitous of Israel's national interests than its own government or rather "holier than the Pope". Not even the Republican Party cannot defend Israel's national heritage and that of the Jewish People when the government in Jerusalem acquiesces with the call of leading fundamentalist liberal journalists and politicians such as the Editor of Israel's "leading" daily Haaretz who urged Secretary of State Rice to have the US "rape" Israel in order to bring about a Palestinian State west of the Jordan River.
In remarks given during his recent visit President Bush stated that he is a realist. He has been consistent on this point for the past seven years. The reality today is that Israel is in the 60th year of its war of independence with enemies directly on our borders launching guided missiles into the Land of Israel and cowing our Western Negev cities on a daily basis. The only reality that appears to interest the present coalition in Jerusalem is surviving in office. To stay in office the coalition believes that it has a right to engage in geopolitical adventurism.
In short, political expediency justifies sacrificing the national security interests of the people it was elected to protect. It needs to make a big splash to obfuscate its failures in Lebanon, Sderot, recovering our kidnapped and missing soldiers, ongoing teachers' strike and social welfare of Holocaust survivors.
While President Bush still sees the world in the same way with the same focus trying to make the world a better place for the next 50 years even sacrificing approval ratings for it, the government in Jerusalem is trying to stave off elections for as long as possible hoping against hope for a lottery win in the "peace process."
Realism is what President Bush expressed in his meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, focusing on the need to maintain the war against terror as the foremost priority. The President has been consistent in his demand that in order to move forward with any peace talks the Road Map's unequivocal call for the elimination of terror must be implemented. We are a long way from that.
Moreover, when in June 2002, the President became the first US leader to call for the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside Israel, he laid down two formidable and necessary conditions: elimination of terror and the establishment of a viable democratic infrastructure while ensuring Israel with defensible borders. Regrettably, it is the Israeli Government that has seen fit to abandon both these essential pre-conditions in its urgent but unfathomable search for a two-state solution, thereby undermining carefully formulated US policy.
Why did Bush come to Israel just now? Because the Israeli Government beseeched him to do so. And now that the President has committed the prestige of his office in the last year of his term to helping his friends in Jerusalem carry out their ill-advised program, we can only shudder at the consequences. If they turn out to be bad for the Jewish State, we will have only the Israeli government to blame.
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