Egyptian press blasts Bush over 'Torah-inspired' Knesset speech
Paper prints photo of Bush hugging Olmert with caption 'lovers;' U.S.: Bush not ignoring Palestinian plight.
Egypt's state-owned press opened fire Saturday on U.S. President George W. Bush as he arrived for talks with regional leaders at the conclusion of a five-day Mideast tour.
The newspapers, whose management are all appointed by the government, criticized Bush's speech Thursday in front of the Israeli Knesset for being overly supportive of the Israelis and not mentioning the Palestinians' plight.
"The Torah-inspired speech of Bush raised question marks over the credibility of the U.S. role in the Middle East," wrote Mursi Atallah, the publisher of Al-Ahram, the flagship daily of the state-owned press. "Bush aims to do nothing but appeasing Israel."
Bush's tour, which included stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia, represents another effort to push Mideast peace talks forward as his time in office winds down.
In his speech marking the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding, Bush reiterated the U.S.'s close ties to its regional ally, and dismissed the notion that the Jewish state should have to negotiate with its armed adversaries.
A front page editorial in Al-Gomhouria, another Egyptian state-owned daily, described Bush as a failed president who delivers nothing but a lousy speech.
Akhbar Al-Youm also on Saturday published a picture of Bush hugging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and captioned it "lovers".
The paper also ran a front page cartoon showing an Egyptian peasant consoling President Hosni Mubarak for having to meet with this burdensome guy who will be leaving soon, in reference to Bush.
Egypt was the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel and has long been seen as a key mediator in the Mideast dispute that Bush has said he wants to solve by the time he leaves office next January.
Bush delivered a rosy forecast for the Middle East in 2068 during his speech.
He limited his mention of Palestinians to just one sentence. "The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved, a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror," he said.
Bush is seen in the Arab world as tilting too far toward Israel. On Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal commented on Bush speech by saying "it's understandable that U.S.-Israel relations are special but it is, however, important also to affirm the legitimate and political rights of the Palestinian people."
White House denies accusation Bush ignoring Palestinian plight
The White House denied that Bush was ignoring the plight of the Palestinians, insisting he would address their concerns in his meeting on Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Bush flies to Egypt on Saturday for talks with Palestinian leaders who will be looking for signs they will not be neglected after he lavished praise on Israel as a guest during the country's 60th anniversary celebrations.
Heading for the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for the final stop of his Middle East tour, Bush faces growing skepticism over his chances of securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before he leaves office in January.
Bush's visit to Israel to celebrate its 60th anniversary raised fresh doubts in the Arab world over his ability to act as an even-handed broker between U.S. ally Israel and the Palestinians.
He hailed Israel as a "homeland for the chosen people" and pledged that Israelis could forever count on American support against enemies like Hamas and Iran.
Palestinians were dismayed that Bush, in his speech to Israel's parliament on Thursday, made only the one reference to their aspirations for a state of their own and did not use the occasion to press Israelis to make compromises.
"What he will make clear is that the Palestinian people deserve a state," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Bush's trip to Egypt will follow a one-day visit to Riyadh, where he met King Abdullah and won an announcement of a modest Saudi increase in oil output in response to his repeated appeals for help in easing record world oil prices.
Bush meets Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as Abbas on Saturday and will see Jordan's King Abdullah, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Iraqi officials on Sunday at an international economic forum.
Bush's Middle East tour, his second this year, follows a U.S.-hosted conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November where Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledged to try to reach a peace agreement by the end of Bush's term.
Bush has voiced optimism that a deal still can be reached as he tries to carve out a foreign policy legacy beyond the unpopular war in Iraq. People on both sides of the conflict are increasingly skeptical.
Despite that, Israelis gave Bush a hero's welcome this week, many seeing him as the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.
Critics said Bush showed insensitivity by heaping anniversary praise on Israel on the day Palestinians annually mark what they call the "Nakba", or "catastrophe," as the Palestinians refer to the events surrounding Israel's independence in 1948.
"He should have told the Israelis no one can be free at the expense of others," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "He missed this opportunity and we are disappointed."
As Bush visited Riyadh on Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal criticized his outspoken support of Israel, telling reporters: "What is required is equality in dealings ... and not selectiveness in dealings."
Abbas will make his case for Bush to put more pressure on Israel. But he has little leverage and is weak at home, governing only in the West Bank while Hamas controls Gaza.
Prime Ehud Olmert is also on the ropes, facing a corruption scandal that could force his resignation and possibly derail the peace process altogether.