Bush Alters Stand on Palestinians
Friday, January 11, 2008; 11:32 AM
JERUSALEM, Jan. 10 -- President Bush said Thursday that Palestinian refugees should receive compensation for the loss of homes they fled or were forced to flee during the establishment of Israel and declared that there should be an end to Israel's "occupation" of lands seized in war four decades ago.
Bush made his comments after becoming the first U.S. president to visit Ramallah, the West Bank city that is the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, in an effort to invigorate negotiations aimed at securing a peace accord before the end of his presidency.
While Bush has previously used language describing Israel's presence in the West Bank as an "occupation," his words Thursday seemed a pointed prod at the Israeli government, coming on his first trip to the country during his presidency. Palestinians have long seen Bush as a partisan of Israel, but some welcomed parts of his statement.
At the same time, Bush restated his past formulation that Israel cannot be expected to give up all the land captured during the 1967 war, parts of which now have large Israeli settlements, and that the two sides must make territorial compromises that reflect "current realities."
"There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967," Bush told reporters, referring to the Middle East war during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. The third territory was seized from Syria, but a senior White House official said Thursday that Bush intended to refer only to the Palestinian areas.
"The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people," Bush added. "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."
Throughout his visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, Bush has sought to address the cynicism of Israelis and Palestinians, some of whom have accused him of merely mouthing rhetoric in his final-year drive for a peace deal.
As part of this effort, Bush named Air Force Lt. Gen. William M. Fraser III, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to monitor the two sides' progress in meeting their obligations under the so-called road map, including Israeli promises to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank and Palestinian pledges to crack down on armed attacks against Israel. Earlier U.S. efforts to induce the two sides to implement the road map have been unsuccessful.
[Departing Israel on Friday en route to Kuwait on an extended Mideast swing, Bush said he would return in May to check on progress and participate in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding as a modern state.
[Before leaving, Bush visited Capernaum, a site where Jesus is said to have performed miracles, toured the site of an ancient synagogue and visited with nuns outside the Church of the Beatitudes, a place where Jesus is believed to have delivered his famed "Sermon on the Mount," the Associated Press. Earlier in the day, Bush became misty-eyed as he toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. He called the memorial a "sobering reminder that evil exists and a call that when we find evil we must resist it."
[In Kuwait, Bush plans to meet Saturday with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to to discuss conditions in Iraq. He plans to visit several other Gulf countries, then meet Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh next Wednesday. ]
After a day spent with the Israelis, Bush devoted much of Thursday to the Palestinians. To reach Ramallah, Bush's motorcade crossed one of the Israeli security checkpoints that have inhibited freedom of movement and much economic activity in the West Bank.