US President George W. Bush faces an uncertain welcome in the Middle East today. There have already been protests ahead of his three-day state visit to Israel and the disputed territories, Bush’s first as leader. Israeli settlers gathered in the disputed Har Homa suburb of Jerusalem, angered by claims that Bush may stop 300 new apartments being built, as part of his campaign for the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2009:
“The first thing is that it’s important to lay out a vision, in order for there to be a Palestinian state once road map obligations are met. What has to happen in order for there to be a peaceful settlement of a long-standing dispute, is there to be an outline of a state clearly defined,” he told reporters at a farewell White House press briefing.
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders held talks in Jerusalem ahead of Bush’s visit. Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas met in an attempt to wrest some sort of progress from talks which have barely advanced since the Annapolis peace initiative was launched in November. They were joined by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Palestinian chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat.
The Israeli Army has announced plans to seal off the West Bank for the duration of Bush’s visit.
In Hamas-controlled Gaza City, meanwhile, a crowd gathered last night to burn Israeli and US flags.