Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bush: U.S., Israel in great ideological struggle' in Middle East

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By Dion Nissenbaum

JERUSALEM - President Bush celebrated Israel's 60th anniversary on Thursday by hailing the Jewish state as a beacon of democracy and denouncing calls for the United States to talk to Iran and other radical forces in the region as a ''foolish delusion.''

In a speech to Israel's parliament, Bush compared the calls for talks with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas to the pleas of leaders who sought to negotiate with Adolf Hitler.

''We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history,'' Bush said.

Bush made only a passing reference to sluggish Israeli peace talks with Palestinian moderates and instead focused on what could be done to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

''Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations,'' Bush said. ''For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.''

The speech marked the high point of Bush's second visit to Israel as president.

While Israeli leaders cheered the staunch support from the U.S. president, Palestinians marked the day they call ''the catastrophe'' with a moment of silence, black balloons and stone-throwing protests against Israeli soldiers.

While Bush has pushed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the top of his agenda for his final months in office, the president largely ignored the issue in his speech.

Bush's only reference to ongoing peace talks came near the end of his speech as the president painted a vision of the Middle East in another 60 years when ''the Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of.''

The politically charged nature of the talks was clear during the special session when two conservative Israeli lawmakers walked out of the chamber when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed confidence that the Knesset and most Israelis would eventually support the creation of a Palestinian state on land now occupied by Israel.

As Bush rose to spoke, three Arab-Israeli lawmakers walked out in protest.

After spending the morning with Olmert touring Masada, the ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea where Jewish rebels took their lives instead of surrendering to Roman forces, Bush echoed the pledge made by thousands of Israeli soldiers.

''At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: 'Masada shall never fall again,''' Bush said. ''Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will always stand with you.''

Bush dismissed as ''a tired argument'' longstanding suggestions that America's ties to Israel were the root of its problems in the Middle East.

''Israel's population may be just over 7 million,'' Bush said as he received a standing ovation. ''But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong because America stands with you.''

Bush said the United States and Israel, linked in ''moral clarity,'' were engaged in a ''great ideological struggle'' in the Middle East.

''Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,'' Bush said. ''We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.''

Winning the ideological battle, Bush said, requires an alternative vision that promotes democracy, freedom of religion and tolerance.

''When leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings,'' Bush said.

Bush compared the Middle East of today to political realities after World War II when Japan and Germany were battered, bitter enemies of the United States. No one could have imagined then, Bush said, that the two nations would become strong allies a short few decades.

''A future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, too, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values,'' said Bush.

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