The White House announced that President Bush, who made a Mideast swing in January, will be going back to Israel in May to participate in celebrations for the Jewish nation's 60th birthday and to be seen prodding Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Israeli press is reporting that Bush, in addition to meeting with Israeli officials and addressing the Knesset, is expected to travel to Masada, the ancient mountaintop fortress in the Judean Desert where Jewish rebels made their last stand against Roman legionnaires in the first century. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that officials organizing Bush's planned 2½-day stay in Israel had been searching for a symbolic location for the president to visit but wanted to avoid one that might stir controversy, like the Western Wall, Golan Heights, or Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
President Bush will be a headliner at a birthday-themed Facing Tomorrow conference organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres. Bush, who will be heading into his final months in office, may be able to commiserate with a few other attending formers: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.
The list of confirmed guests for the conference also includes former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz, Google founder Sergey Brinn, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, India's Tata group chairman Ratan Tata, billionaire Las Vegas businessman Sheldon Adelson, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. One dropout: singer Barbra Streisand.
Bush's six-day Mideast trip, May 13-18, also will include stops in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, where he will confer with King Abdullah on oil prices and on Iran, and in Egypt, where relations have been a bit rocky since strongman President Hosni Mubarak pushed back against earlier U.S.-encouraged democratization moves. Along with Mubarak, Bush plans to meet in Egypt with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss Mideast peace negotiations.
For the historically minded, Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, which is why the announced events are on that date even though the date is marked in Israel according to the Hebrew calendar and thus falls this year on May 8.