George W. Bush, well aware that he's in the last 12 months of possibly the worst U.S. presidency ever, has turned his ambitions to that Holy Grail of U.S. presidential "legacy" aspirations - peace between Palestine and Israel.
Bush is in the Mideast for eight days, trying to bolster his goal of achieving a long-elusive peace agreement by the end of his presidency in a year. Speaking at his hotel in Jerusalem, he said again that he thinks that is possible.And I have to tell you, what he's saying sounds pretty sensible to me.
``I am committed to doing all I can to achieve it,'' Bush said. Within minutes, Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley said the president would return to the Middle East ``at least once and maybe more'' over the next year. He wouldn't elaborate on possible destinations, but another White House official said Bush is likely to attend Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations in May.
Bush gave his most detailed summation yet of what a final peace should include, including U.S. expectations for the resolution of some of the hardest issues in the violent conflict, one of the world's longest-running and most intractable. He used tough language intended to put both sides on notice that he sees no reason they cannot get down to serious business, ``starting right now.''I can't believe the neocons are happy. Does anyone have any insight on who is behind Bush's newfound vision, or can tell me what I'm missing?
In his set of U.S. bottom lines were security for Israel, a ``contiguous'' state for the Palestinians and the expectation that final borders will be negotiated to accommodate territorial changes since Israel's formation. He also suggested international compensation for Palestinians and their descendants who claim a right to return to land they held before Israel's formation.
He made a point of using a loaded term - occupation - to describe Israeli control over land that would eventually form the bulk of an independent Palestinian state. That he did so in Jerusalem underscored that he is trying not to seem partial to Israel.
On borders, Bush said any peace agreement ``will require mutually agreed adjustments'' to the lines drawn for Israel in the late 1940s. He was referring primarily to Israeli neighborhoods on disputed lands that Israel would keep when an independent Palestinian state is formed.
Earlier in the day, Bush had said Palestinians deserve better than a ``Swiss cheese'' state fitted around Israeli land and security bulwarks.
``The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear,'' he said. ``There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish a Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people.''