President George Bush has arrived in Israel, the first stop on his five-day trip to the Middle East. Mr. Bush comes to Israel to help celebrate the country's 60th anniversary, and advance the Mideast peace process, but his efforts could be complicated by a growing criminal probe surrounding Israel's prime minister. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.
Mr. Bush received a warm welcome from Israelis as he arrived to help celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary, and encourage talks between Israelis and Palestinians, aimed at reaching a framework for a peace agreement by the end of this year.
This is Mr. Bush's second visit to Israel this year. He was welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Israel's President Shimon Peres, and by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who called the U.S. President Israel's closest ally.
"America has been there at each and every important crossroad in the life of our young country and stood by us in times of hope and in moments of crisis," said Mr. Olmert. "Since assuming office almost eight years ago, President George Bush has been our closest ally and partner."
In his remarks Mr. Bush noted that both Israel and the United States faced strong challenges when founded, and both countries shared the same principles which have allowed them to succeed.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert began bilateral talks in Jerusalem shortly after the arrival ceremony, focusing on peace talks between Israel and the moderate Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Bush will meet with Mr. Abbas at a summit on Saturday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, but Palestinians are angry that he is not traveling to the Palestinian territories as he did in January.
Meanwhile a police corruption investigation into allegations that Mr. Olmert received bribes from an American businessman while he was Mayor of Jerusalem is intensifying. Mr. Olmert says he will resign if indicted but says he is innocent. Reuvan Hazan who teaches political science at Hebrew University says after five corruption investigations in two years many Israelis have given up on their prime minister.
"Most Israelis, according to the polls we have today do not believe he is innocent and think that he should go," he said.
For his part, Mr. Bush has voiced confidence in Mr. Olmert calling him an "honest man" and says in any case the Israeli-Palestinian peace process does not depend on any one individual.