Israel is “our strongest friend and ally in the Middle East,” President Bush said during a visit to the Israeli president’s residence.
Shimon Peres said regional issues, including Hamas’ actions in Gaza and Hezbollah’s in Lebanonare holding up the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The U.S. president and First Lady Laura Bush landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday, kicking off a three-day visit to celebrate Israel’s 60th Independence Day.
“Our two nations both faced great challenges when they were founded. And our two nations have both relied on the same principles to help us succeed. We built strong democracies to protect the freedoms given to us by an Almighty God,” Bush said in a speech after being greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peres.
“Welcome to the new Israel: Three thousand years old, and going on sixty,” Peres said.
Though Bush is expected to address Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during his visit, he will not visit the West Bank nor the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Instead, he will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt, a next leg on his Middle East tour.
Laura Bush visited an Israeli health clinic for women and children and a mixed Jewish-Arab school, both in Jerusalem.