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Update from Jerusalem: Much Hope, Much Talk and the Next Step -- Dealing with Reality - Bill Koenig

President Bush began his Israel and Middle East print and TV interviews last week. He had one interview on Jan. 2 and three on Jan. 4 — the same day California was hit with a massive storm that had hurricane-force winds, record snow and rain, knocked out the power to 2 million homes and businesses in California and Oregon, and caused major flooding in Nevada.

Following that, there were two different large tornado outbreaks on Tuesday and Thursday. And there was major flooding in Indiana beginning on Wednesday.

Violent, record-setting weather has hit the U.S. during President Bush's focus on Israel. Also, gold hit its all-time high at just under $900 an ounce, two of the United States' largest financial institutions are looking for more money to help bail them out, and the Federal Reserve is scrambling looking for a solution.

Two of Israel's most mistrusted leaders, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, were the ones who led President Bush's welcome to Israel.

"Olmert is a strong political leader," said Bush at a dinner party with cabinet ministers as well as Olmert and his wife, Aliza. The U.S. President called on Olmert's deputies and coalition leaders to safeguard Olmert so that he could continue to lead.

I will spend the next few days during our stops in Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates writing a special report on what transpired here in Israel and what I discerned. There was much news along with a lot of behind-the-scenes activity that I will share with you. In the meantime, I included below the key points of President Bush's trip to Israel to give you an idea of his positions and statements.

Thank you very much for your prayer and financial support. I would especially appreciate your prayers as we travel to Kuwait, then on to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia (three days and two nights) and Egypt.

Inside the White House

This has been quite a week here in Israel. President Bush arrived in Israel around noon on Wednesday, Jan. 9, to a red-carpet welcome at Ben-Gurion International Airport by Israeli President Shimon Peres, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and many members of the Knesset.

He had separate meetings with both the President and Prime Minister later in the day at their official residences.

The next day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave President Bush a red-carpet welcome to Ramallah. Interestingly, it was mostly sunny and in the high 50's for President Bush’s arrival in Jerusalem, but the next day's weather was much different for his welcome to Ramallah.

To start with, President Bush had requested that the lights in the Old City of Jerusalem be turned off before dawn so he could get a better view of the sun rising over its ancient walls.

As reported by Agence France-Presse, a municipal spokesman said on Tuesday that Bush had made a request to watch the sun rise over the Old City from his suite at the King David Hotel.

To make the scene more dramatic, the authorities decided to turn off the lights illuminating the limestone walls before dawn on Thursday and Friday, the spokesman told reporters.

But the President's desire was thwarted by very thick fog that kept the sun from shining over Jerusalem. (NOTE: President Bush did have a beautiful sunrise this morning — Friday — the day he is touring Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Capernaum).

Additionally, due to the fog, he wasn't able to take Marine 1 for a 15-minute helicopter ride but was forced to take a 45-minute ride in his 45-car-and-SUV security caravan. Also, the temperature was very cold — in the low to mid 20's, not like the high 50's during his arrival in Israel.

He arrived in Ramallah to meet with Abbas and then held a joint press conference in a very cold meeting room. When the business was completed, we walked outside to a beautiful sunny day.

Statement by the President on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (At the King David Hotel, Jerusalem)

NOTE: This was an excerpt from President Bush's last official political statement prior to leaving Israel. The most important points are emphasized. I will further decipher this in my special report coming later.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I'd like to, first, thank Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas for their hospitality during my trip here to the Holy Land. We had very good meetings, and now is the time to make difficult choices.

I underscored to both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas that progress needs to be made on four parallel tracks.

  • First, both sides need to fulfill their commitments under the road map.
  • Second, the Palestinians need to build their economy and their political and security institutions. And to do that, they need the help of Israel, the region, and the international community.
  • Third, I reiterate my appreciation for the Arab League peace initiative, and I call upon the Arab countries to reach out to Israel, a step that is long overdue.
  • In addition to these three tracks, both sides are getting down to the business of negotiating. I called upon both leaders to make sure their teams negotiate seriously, starting right now. I strongly supported the decision of the two leaders to continue their regular summit meetings, because they are the ones who can, and must, and — I am convinced — will lead.

I share with these two leaders the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Both of these leaders believe that the outcome is in the interest of their peoples and are determined to arrive at a negotiated solution to achieve it.

The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear:

  • There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967.
  • The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent.

It is vital that each side understands that satisfying the other's fundamental objectives is key to a successful agreement. Security for Israel and viability for the Palestinian state are in the mutual interests of both parties.

Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides. While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 [this was corrected to 1967 shortly thereafter by Steve Hadley, Bush's National Security Advisor] to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.

  • I believe we need to look to the establishment of a Palestinian state and new international mechanisms, including compensation, to resolve the refugee issue.
  • I reaffirm to each leader that implementation of any agreement is subject to implementation of the road map.
  • Neither party should undertake any activity that contravenes road map obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations.
  • On the Israeli side, that includes ending settlement expansion and removing unauthorized outposts. On the Palestinian side, that includes confronting terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure.
  • I know Jerusalem is a tough issue. Both sides have deeply-felt political and religious concerns. I fully understand that finding a solution to this issue will be one of the most difficult challenges on the road to peace, but that is the road we have chosen to walk.
  • Security is fundamental. No agreement and no Palestinian state will be born of terror. I reaffirm America's steadfast commitment to Israel's security.
  • The establishment of the state of Palestinian is long overdue. The Palestinian people deserve it. And it will enhance the stability of the region, and it will contribute to the security of the people of Israel.
  • The peace agreement should happen, and can happen, by the end of this year. I know each leader shares that important goal, and I am committed to doing all I can to achieve it.