U.S. President George Bush’s first official visit to Israel is only days away, but many political analysts are already speculating on whether the President’s two day visit will result an any improvements in the current state of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Coming virtually at the same time as the outcome of the New Hampshire presidential primary, Bush’s visit will probably not have an influence on the political chances of any of the Republican candidates, including present front runner Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa Caucuses over other hopefuls Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudolf Giuliani.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also hopeful that the President’s visit will result in some kind of break-though in the current situation which not only has resulted in Palestinian fired rockets reaching the city of Ashkelon, but new acts of terror by members of the Palestinian Fatah organization that Olmert is trying to win over in an alliance against the Hamas controlled Gaza strip.
Bush, shown with both Olmert and Abbas at the recent Annapolis Summit is himself more or less in a “lame duck” political situation in which members of his own political party are trying to distance themselves from his foreign and domestic policies, including those running for public office. In addition to meeting with Israeli government personalities, Bush will also meet with P.A. President Mahmud Abbas and members of his government in a specially arranged meeting in Jericho. Hamas leader and “former” P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haneyah will not be on the President’s agenda, for obvious reasons.
One thing for sure, however, is that the Bush visit will send a strong message to Iran concerning the President’s feelings about that country’s nuclear program, despite the recent NIE report that the Islamic Republic abandoned it’s nuclear weapons development program in 2003. The President’s visit will help reassure both the IDF and the Israeli government that President Bush still believes that Iran continues to pursue its goal to become a nuclear power.
The big question concerning this topic will be what will happen when Bush leaves office in January, 2009.
Bush will probably try to persuade Olmert to make some kind of concessions with Abbas, including the dismantling of some outpost and “fringe” settlements as a prelude to more serious disengagements that are being planned in the coming months as part of the agreements between Olmert and Abbas at the Middle East Summit in Annapolis Maryland. The only problem from that conference was that most, if not all, of the agreements appeared to have come only from Mr. Olmert and not from Mr. Abbas.
Outside of causing a nerve wracking traffic tie up in much of central Jerusalem during the President’s visit, the prospects of any real breakthroughs being made is a bit doubtful and all that will probably transpire will be a lot of media publicized hand shaking and dinner speeches. Bush will at least see for himself what he has only seen previously in video clips such as parts of the “security wall” in Jerusalem as well as the usual diplomatic sites such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust exhibit and museum and the Kotel or Western Wall in the Old City. Aside from a short visit to Jericho, the remainder of Bush’s visit will be either within the King David Hotel or at the Knesset, where the President is most likely scheduled to address members of Israel’s parliament.
Olmert, who recently has expressed his wishes that former and now comatose P.M. Ariel Sharon was able to assist in solving the country’s political and security problems, will not gain much from Bush’s visit, especially with the chances of a U.S. Democratic Party Presidential administration more possible than ever. What many people in Israel are currently wishing is that a new Israeli government administration will soon be elected to replace the one so ineptly administered by Mr. Olmert and his Kadima Party cronies. That hope is at least as strong as many Americans have regarding replacing the current Republican Party led one in Washington, led by the guy who will disembarking from Air Force One at Ben Gurion Airport this coming Wednesday.