JERUSALEM — When President Bush lands in Tel Aviv on Wednesday for the first U.S. presidential visit to Israel in nine years, Israelis anticipate only minor results in the stalled Arab-Israeli peace negotiations but major congestion.
On the eve of his visit, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave their special negotiating teams the go-ahead to begin trying to craft compromises on the most contentious issues at the heart of the conflict. Bush isn't planning a three-way meeting with Olmert and Abbas, however.
He'll stay at the King David hotel, a favorite among wealthy American tourists and a historic Jerusalem landmark, once the military headquarters of the British Mandate. In 1946, Jewish militants who were fighting to rout the British forces in Palestine and create a Jewish state blew up a wing of the hotel, killing 91 people.
Guests have been cleared from the hotel's 237 rooms to make way for the Bush entourage.
More than 10,000 police officers will converge on Jerusalem for their largest mobilization since Pope John Paul II came to visit in 2000. Demonstrators from across the spectrum also are revving up.
On Monday, demonstrators who want to see Israel's illegal West Bank settlements razed protested outside the largest such settlement.
Opponents of plans to carve up Jerusalem and give Palestinians a small part to claim as their capital are planning to form a human chain around the Old City.
Later this week, supporters of Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel who's serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison, will renew their calls for his release.
Militants in Lebanon also appeared intent on letting Bush know that they're still around. Early Tuesday morning, two Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon hit northern Israel. No one took responsibility for the attack, which caused minor damage.
In what may be the most embarrassing moment and a slap to Bush and Olmert, a Jewish developer announced plans this week to start a new Jewish neighborhood in Arab East Jerusalem. The United States has criticized Israel's plan, announced last month, to build more than 300 apartments in Har Homa, in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank.
This is Bush's first visit to Israel as president, although he visited in 1998 when he was the governor of Texas. His guide was Ariel Sharon, then a Cabinet minister and later the prime minister. The visit often was said to be the basis of the two men's close working relationship later as leaders of their respective countries.
Sharon now is hospitalized in a coma and Bush reportedly will meet with his sons, Omri and Gilad, during his visit.
The schedule calls for Bush to spend all day Wednesday talking with the Israeli government, and most of Thursday visiting the Palestinian Authority, followed by dinner at Olmert's residence. Bush also will visit Yad Vashem, the memorial to Holocaust victims, and the Christian holy sites of Capernaum and the Mount of the Beatitudes above the Sea of Galilee before departing for Kuwait.
To seal off the King David hotel, city authorities plan to close one of Jerusalem's main thoroughfares, almost certainly leading to traffic snarls throughout the city.
"The visit by U.S. President George Bush is going to make the lives of many Jerusalem residents hell," Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper wrote.
(Churgin is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
McClatchy Newspapers 2008