JERUSALEM (JTA) — Turning out the lights before you leave Jerusalem may be an odd way to say you care, but it’s what President Bush wants.
Jerusalem’s municipality planned to shut down the Old City’s strobes on Thursday at dawn to give the president an unfettered look at the sun rising over its walls, spires and cupolas. The request came from the White House, Jerusalem officials said.
Bush landed at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv shortly before noon Wednesday, kicking off his first visit as president to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The visit is the first leg of an eight-day tour to the Middle East that includes stops in the Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“The United States and Israel are strong allies,” Bush said after a red carpet reception at the airport by Israeli political and religious leaders, and by an honor guard. “The alliance between our two nations helps guarantee Israel’s security as a Jewish state.”
Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday night, and planned to meet him again after he visited Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In a joint news conference with Olmert, Bush made his opinion clear on illegal settlement outposts.
“Look, we’ve been talking about it for four years,” he said. They “have got to go.”
Olmert appeared taken aback by Bush’s bluntness, which came moments after Olmert said, “the president didn’t ask for me to make any commitments other than the ones that Israel made already regarding the peace process.”
Olmert has modified Israel’s view on the role of settlement expansion in the Bush-initiated “Road Map” peace process. His predecessor, Ariel Sharon, argued with the Americans that Israel’s actions on settlements would come after Palestinians demonstrated an ability to prevent terrorism.
Though U.S. officials had hoped that Olmert would have taken some measures to dismantle outposts before the Bush visit, Olmert quickly reassured Bush that he would address the outpost issue.
“We have no interest in delaying matters,” he said, but added that Israel would continue to build in east Jerusalem and in the larger settlements near Jerusalem, which he said do not come under the purview of the Road Map.
At the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres, Bush sat with Peres and delivered short remarks that emphasized the overall tenor of the visit: confronting those who would obstruct peace.
“It’s vital for the world to fight terrorists,” he said. “I come as an optimistic person and a realistic person — realistic in my understanding that it’s vital for the world to fight terrorists to confront those who would murder the innocent to achieve political objectives.”
Authorities dedicated a police presence of more than 10,000 to secure Jerusalem for three days. That doesn’t count the security detail the president brought with him, particularly after al-Qaida figures called on local Palestinians to kill him.
Israel planned to hand over security to the Palestinian Authority for Bush’s visit to Ramallah in the West Bank on Thursday, an American-urged nod to Palestinian sovereignty. Nonetheless, Israel shut down the West Bank as of Tuesday midnight, a closure that applied to internal movement as well as to entering Jerusalem and Israeli areas.
One sign of the P.A.‘s caution: It asked journalists to show up at 4 a.m. to cover the 10 a.m. meeting at the P.A. headquarters.
Bush was scheduled to leave Jerusalem Friday morning after visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. He is scheduled to tour Christian sites in the Galilee before continuing to Kuwait.