There were cheerful goodbyes from President Bush in Jerusalem last night after a visit that marked a change in tone from Israel’s main ally. The US president moves on to several states in the Gulf today as part of a Middle East tour that first took him to Israel and the Palestinian territories for the first time. In unusually blunt language he said painful political concessions are needed on both sides to achieve peace.
He called for the end of what he described as the Israeli “occupation” of land in the West Bank. He also said the Palestinians had to do more to dismantle militant groups. The use of the word occupation was interpreted by many as a change in Washington’s tone.
President Bush told both sides that he expected the signing of a peace accord to create a Palestinian state within a year.
He said: “Some day I hope that as a result of a formation of a Palestinian state, there won’t be walls and checkpoints, and people will be able to move freely in a democratic state.”
President Bush also referred to the issue of Palestinian refugees, saying a process that includes compensation needs to be set up.
Anti-Bush protesters, however, say they are sceptical of what they call his belated enthusiasm on the issue, in his last year in office.