US President George W. Bush has rounded off the Israeli part of a Middle East tour, having hardened his tone towards the administration there. During a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Bush said the museum provided a sobering reminder that evil exists, and it must be resisted where it is found.
He called on Israelis and Palestinians to get serious about the long-running peace efforts, hoping for a signed agreement before he leaves office in 12 months. And, for the first time, the president described Israel’s presence in territories, held since 1967, as an ‘occupation’.
Bush said: “The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realise this vision seems clear. There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people.” The use of the word ‘occupation’ will make many Israelis smart. It is a term normally used only by Palestinians.
Bush met President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, afterwards saying the establishment of a Palestinian state was long overdue, although achieving an agreement would require painful political concessions by both sides.
The trip is part of a tour of the region, to ask Arab allies to support his peacemaking efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. He hopes that by supporting Abbas they can begin to show Israel, in a tangible way, that they support this diplomatic process.