President Bush traveled to the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, telling Palestinians that he believes they can sign a peace deal with Israel before he leaves office early next year. VOA's Jim Teeple reports there was unprecedented heavy security in the West Bank for Mr. Bush's visit, and he received a mixed welcome from Palestinians.
Palestinian police were taking no chances in Ramallah. Hundreds deployed all over the city to break up any protests that might develop during Mr. Bush's visit, only the second visit by a U.S. President to the Palestinian territories.
A morning curfew kept Ramallah residents off the streets while Mr. Bush met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but by midday many began venturing out. A heavy police presence stopped protests from developing, a fact that bothered Khaldoun Barghouti, the foreign editor of the Palestinian newspaper Al Hayat al Jedidi.
"The Palestinian people are enlightened now, and they know it is their right to express their opinion by welcoming Bush or by saying he is not welcome here," he said. "It is their freedom. In Jerusalem, the Israelis demonstrated against Bush and their leaders, and nobody prevented them."
Opinions were varied in Ramallah about Mr. Bush's visit. Many people said they did not want to comment, but two men who did, while declining to give their names, had widely divergent opinions.
"I think Bush is a good President," one man said. "Yes, he is a man of peace and he is welcome to the Middle East. Slowly, step by step, he will bring peace. I think he is a good president... He is a good president and he is welcome any time."
"I do not agree, I mean George Bush is the President of war," said another man. "He destroyed Iraq. He gave Israel arms to burn Lebanon, and for eight years he gave Israel the right to kill and confiscate land and build settlements here."
In his remarks with President Abbas, Mr. Bush noted that because of bad weather he traveled to Ramallah in a motorcade that passed through several checkpoints on its way from Jerusalem to Ramallah, checkpoints that the Palestinians have asked Mr. Bush to pressure Israel to remove.
As the weather cleared, Mr. Bush departed Ramallah by helicopter. Thousands of Palestinians stopped to watch as his convoy of green and white presidential helicopters flew over the city on their way to nearby Bethlehem, where Mr. Bush paid a private visit to the Church of the Nativity, the site Christians venerate as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.