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Some fault speech by Bush

Talk in Mideast did not delve into peace plan details

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Terence Hunt
Associated Press / May 16, 2008

JERUSALEM - President Bush gently urged Mideast leaders to "make the hard choices necessary for peace," leaving it to embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to stand before a divided parliament yesterday and forcefully declare that this war-weary nation is ready for a historic agreement with Palestinians.

On a day mourned by Palestinians as the 60th anniversary of their uprooting by Israel's independence, Bush mentioned the Palestinians only once in a 23-minute speech to the Knesset - and then only in the context of what a Palestinian state would look like six decades from now.

Some Israelis and Palestinians were disappointed that Bush failed to use his high-profile appearance to push the two sides to take the concrete steps to achieve his own goal of a peace deal before the end of his presidency.

Five months after Bush launched the first serious Mideast peace talks in seven years, the effort seems to have run out of steam. Olmert, facing his fifth criminal investigation in two years, is weak and unpopular and his support in parliament is unclear. The Palestinians are weak and divided, as well, and decades-old disputes remain unsettled.

Bush, in his remarks, did not delve into the obstacles but skipped to a rosy scenario 60 years ahead.

"Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people," Bush forecast. "The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserve - a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade."

He did not explain how that would be achieved. Bush predicted Iran and Syria would be peaceful nations and that the Islamic Islamist groups Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas would be defeated.

Bush's speech was seen as a missed opportunity by some on both sides.

"It was an embarrassing speech, a collection of slogans that somebody wrote for him in order to be nice to Israel, or what he thinks is Israel, and to steer well clear of anything concrete," said Yossi Beilin, an Israeli lawmaker and a member of the dovish Meretz party and one of the prime architects of the Oslo peace accords. "It's a shame and a scandal, in my opinion."

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