A Presidential Glimpse of the Holy Land

Bush is often described as "the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House."

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Bush with the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

By SHARE

President Bush's approval rating may be dismal at home, but if it had been gauged in Israel during his visit last week, it might well have reached post-9/11 heights. Bush is often described as "the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House," and the nation went above and beyond the call of strategic alliance to show its appreciation.

Banner headlines shouted, "Welcome." TV stations cleared out their programming to go nonstop with the visit, Bush's first to Israel and the Palestinian territories as president. Highways in and out of Jerusalem were shut down for hours at a time, while the capital was under virtual siege by police.

At times, the Israelis laid it on a little thick. A children's troupe entertained their guest with "Hava Nagila." A little girl serenaded him with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and handed him a long-stemmed rose—"one of the unforgettable moments" of the day, as one anchorwoman gushed. In their joint news conference, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lauded the president so vigorously that a grinning Bush was left looking a little embarrassed.

In sharp contrast, the president's more somber stop in the West Bank was marked by awkward body language during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Bush did scold Israel for its "occupation" of Palestinian land, but he could not escape reminders that it was Hamas (which Washington calls a terrorist group), and not Abbas, that controls the Gaza Strip.

Bush was buoyed enough to suggest a peace deal is possible before his term is over. Still, despite his public optimism, there are no signs that the peace process remains anything other than comatose.

But, no matter, at least as far as Israel was concerned. In all, the visit was mostly an opportunity for a pair of hawkish, defiant, and often quite isolated allies—Bush and the State of Israel—to bask in each other's admiration. A song more fitting than "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or even "Hava Nagila" might have been "You and Me Against the World."