Bush schedule finalized

Us officials deny snubbing Netanyahu.

bush visit 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
bush visit 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli and US teams put the final touches Monday on US President George W. Bush's upcoming visit, with one US official defusing Likud claims that Bush was snubbing party head Binyamin Netanyahu by saying Bush does not normally meet with the heads of opposition parties during his working trips abroad. "I don't believe it is standard operating procedure for the president to meet with the leader of the political opposition during an overseas visit," the official said. "It depends on the time, the place and the circumstances." The official said the US was not boycotting Netanyahu, who is not scheduled to meet with Bush during this week's visit, but is among those invited to greet him upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday. The US president could very well meet Netanyahu in the spring, as there has been talk of a second Bush visit to participate in Israel's 60th Independence Day celebrations. Were Bush to return then, according to government officials, it would most likely be labeled a state visit, with all the trappings - including a black tie dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres - that will be missing from this week's working visit. The main difference between a state and a working visit, the officials explained, was that during a state visit Peres would share most of the limelight with Bush, while during the upcoming working visit that role belongs to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In addition, a state visit would also include a trip to the Knesset, something not on Bush's upcoming schedule. Yitzhak Eldan, the Foreign Ministry's chief of protocol, said that the last of the dozens of preparatory meetings between US and Israeli planning teams were held on Monday, and dress rehearsals for ceremonies at the airport and Beit Hanassi residence would be held on Tuesday. According to Eldan, this is the largest logistical operation for a visit since Pope John Paul II arrived in 2000. Bush is to arrive on Wednesday afternoon and be greeted at the airport by Peres, Olmert and a reception line that includes cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, Olmert's inner staff, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, opposition leader Netanyahu, the chief rabbis and representatives of various religious communities. Peres, Bush and Olmert will deliver brief statements, and then Bush will fly by helicopter - unaccompanied by Peres or Olmert - to Jerusalem. He will go to his suite at Jerusalem's King David Hotel and be met briefly by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, before going to Beit Hanassi for a meeting with Peres. Following a ceremony there, which will include a performance by Jewish and Arab children, he will go to Olmert's official residence for a dinner meeting. On Thursday morning, Bush is scheduled to meet Ariel Sharon's sons Omri and Gilad, and then go to Ramallah for meetings with the PA's President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. The US president is then scheduled to visit Bethlehem, followed by another dinner meeting with Olmert in Jerusalem, this time joined by some of Olmert's senior ministers, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. On Friday morning, Bush is slated to meet with Quartet envoy Tony Blair, followed by a 90 minute visit to Yad Vashem. Following that, he is scheduled to fly by helicopter to the Galilee and visit Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes. He will depart early Friday afternoon for the Persian Gulf and the next leg of his eight-day Middle East journey. Eldan said the US president's staff was completely understanding of the need for Bush to leave the country plenty of time before the onset of Shabbat.