Bush’s Mideast talk generates criticism here and in Israel

JERUSALEM — On an emotional visit to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary, President Bush on Thursday compared people seeking talks with Iran and radical Islamic groups to the Nazis’ appeasers, provoking a political storm at home and accusations that he was politicizing the celebration.

Bush’s address to the Israeli parliament also stirred intense debate between Israelis and Palestinians. His strong words of empathy for Israel brought lawmakers in the tiny chamber to their feet.

Palestinians expressed disap­pointment afterward that Bush did not use the occasion to press the Israelis forcefully to make compromises toward the creation of a Palestinian state. While Bush has frequently promoted that goal, the only reference in the speech came when he looked forward to the 120th anniversary of Israel and the prospect of a changed Middle East.

“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,” Bush said.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, called the speech a missed opportunity. Bush should have used the forum to address the urgency of ending the conflict, he said: “We shouldn’t have to wait 60 more years for a Palestinian state.”

Bush’s comments about appeasement reverberated across the U.S. campaign trail, offering a new platform for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to sharpen their lines of attack.

In the speech, Bush warned that the U.S. must not negotiate with Iran or radical groups such as Hamas.

“Some seem to believe we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,” Bush said.

Democrats angrily called the comment a veiled shot at Obama, who has advocated dialogue with Iran and Syria, but not Hamas.

Democratic leaders demanded that McCain repudiate Bush’s comments, but McCain joined in on Bush’s side. “Why does Senator Obama want to sit down with a state sponsor of terrorism? What does Senator Obama want to talk about with (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad?” McCain said in Ohio.

In a statement, Obama responded to what he called “a false political attack,” saying, “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the President’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.”

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