Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bush Gets His Jihad On?

Yahoo! News - U.S. President George W. Bush, hardening his tone towards Israel on Thursday, urged an end to "the occupation" of the West Bank and pushed for a peace treaty to be signed within a year to create a Palestinian state.

Bush does not always use the politically charged word "occupation" to describe Israel's hold on lands captured in a 1967 war. It is a term Palestinians seeking a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip employ frequently to describe their plight.

"The establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue. The Palestinian people deserve it," Bush said in a statement he read to reporters in a Jerusalem hotel.

Bush's language, after he traveled to the West Bank city of Ramallah past Israeli checkpoints and settlements, could cause political pain to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose right-wing coalition partners usually bridle at such remarks.

"There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967," Bush said. He had earlier met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and visited Bethlehem, also in the West Bank.

Preparing to head to the Gulf on Friday, Bush urged Arab states to "reach out" to Israel. On a trip to rally Arab support against non-Arab Iran, tougher language towards Israel may also stand Bush in good stead when he continues his tour.

Speaking earlier at the Muqata compound where the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was besieged by Israeli forces just a few years ago, Abbas hailed Bush as the first U.S. president to commit fully to back a Palestinian state.

After the meeting, Bush flew by helicopter to the West Bank city of Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, built over the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

There the president, a devout Christian, spoke of his hope for a divine gift of freedom for all people and an end to the Israeli walls and checkpoints that ring the Palestinian town.