Bush to Wish Israel Happy 60th

President Bush arrived in Israel today on his second trip to the country this year, this one a mix of celebration and business.

The celebration is for Israel's 60th anniversary, an invitation he accepted when he was last here in January.

The business involves checking up on the peace process he launched at the Annapolis summit in November and the discussion of difficult regional issues with his moderate Arab allies.

The Bush presidency has been careful to maintain the good relations traditional between the United States and the Jewish state during his time in office, forging close working relationships and friendship with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and now with his successor, Ehud Olmert.

Arriving this morning at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Bush and first lady Laura Bush were greeted by Olmert and Israeli President Shimon Peres.


Jerusalem and its residents have mixed feelings. Israelis see Bush as a close ally, but the 250,000 Palestinian residents of the city see him and his policies in the region in a very negative light, favoring Israel at the expense of the Arabs.

But all of them share one logistical dread -- the shutdown and travel chaos caused by his entourage's presence in the so-called Holy City.

The people of Jerusalem well remember the huge traffic jams and road closures resulting from his last visit. This time around it may even be worse, with many roads in the center of the city already shut down in anticipation of the Bush arrival.

Sightseeing and Speeches

While in Israel Bush will make two key note speeches.

Tonight he will address a conference organized by Peres, and Thursday he will address the Israeli Knesset, its Parliament.

Thursday morning there will be some sightseeing as he and the first lady visit the desert fort at Masada, the scene of a historic Jewish revolt against Roman occupation.

As for the peace process, the local view is not optimistic. The ambitious goal of reaching an outline of a peace agreement by the time he leaves office seems more remote as time goes by.

Regionally the picture isn't so rosy either.

On Friday Bush will fly to Riyadh as a guest of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah -- an important ally and oil producer. This weekend he will meet with other moderate Arab rulers in Egypt including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

America's allies in this troubled region are holding the line against a resurgent Iran and the continuing threat of Islamic fundamentalism.

These are troubled times in the Middle East with the war in Iraq dragging on, Iran in hot pursuit of nuclear power and its allies in the Palestinian territories and now Lebanon growing in power by the day.

There will be sharp focus on celebrating Israel's 60th year as a home for the Jewish people, but there are long shadows being cast over the party by the country's longstanding enemies, some of whom even wish to destroy it.