- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2008

TEL AVIV — President Bush is expected to reiterate his support for a Palestinian state in a speech today, but some are questioning his credibility to broker a deal after his remarks to the Israeli parliament last week that made scant mention of the Palestinians or the peace process.

“In my speech tomorrow, I’ll make it clear that I believe that we can get a state defined by the end of my presidency, and we’ll work hard to achieve that objective,” Mr. Bush said yesterday of his scheduled address before the World Economic Forum.

The reassurances came amid Arab sentiment that the speech Thursday to the Israeli Knesset — in which Mr. Bush said that Israel “can always count on America to stand at its side” — reinforced the perception of U.S. bias toward the Jewish state.

“It’s a very irresponsible speech,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Cabinet member. “The U.S. as a superpower is supposed to be more responsible and constructive in its approach to conflicts like this. [Mr. Bush’s] approach has harmed the position of the U.S. and its credibility in the region, which is not helpful as far as the American role in the peace process is concerned.”

Mr. Bush is on the final stop of a tour of the Middle East that began last week with a visit to Jerusalem for Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations. He met yesterday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.

Mr. Mubarak, who is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discuss efforts to work out a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, sought reassurances that Mr. Bush would work hard toward the goal of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Bush said that during their private meeting, Mr. Mubarak “wanted to make sure that my approach toward the Middle Eastern peace is firm, and that we work hard to get the Palestinian state defined.”

Arab newspapers criticized the president and raised questions about the efficacy of his administration’s efforts to mediate peace negotiations.

A front-page headline Friday in the Palestinian daily newspaper El Hayat Al Jadidah read: “Bush Views are More Zionist than the Zionists.”

“How can peace be reached with a biased broker like the United States of America?” asked an editorial in the daily Al Quds newspaper. “How could a president of the United States of America be in the Middle East and ignore completely the other side of the coin?”

When Mr. Bush visited the region in January, he drove from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with Mr. Abbas, but there was no such arrangement on this visit.

During the speech, considered the most pro-Israel ever by a foreign figure, Mr. Bush repeated a vow by Israeli soldiers upon induction into the army and he promised, “When you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong because America stands with you.”

One newspaper wrote that the comments were inappropriate, since the anniversary of the Jewish state for Palestinians marks their “nakba,” or catastrophe of displacement and dispersion after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

“The United States is fully aware of the significance of this occasion to the Arabs and to the Palestinians. The American strategists know the volume of the Arab and Islamic hatred to the United States because of its full support for Israel,” wrote Samih Eshbeib in the Al Ayyam newspaper.

Mr. Bush yesterday also repeated his commitment to the peace process to Mr. Abbas, who said that “we are working very seriously and very aggressively with the hope that we will be able to achieve this objective before the end of the year.”

Mr. Abbas made no mention of Mr. Bush’s earlier remarks in Israel.

“We know very well that you personally, as well as your administration, are committed to reach peace before the end of 2008,” Mr. Abbas said. “We are delighted to continue our engagement with you.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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