Bush Walks in Jesus' Footsteps

U.S. President George W. Bush bolstered his Israel-Palestine peace treaty plan this past week and called on the leaders of the two countries to make "painful concessions" during his two-day Holy Land tour.

The "painful" concessions will mean dismantling "terrorist infrastructure" and ending Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, he said.

Bush marked the beginning of his eight-day tour to the Middle East with the renewed push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace pact - an accord he said whose "time has come."

During his two-day visit to Israel and West Bank, Bush engaged in formal talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that the two sides needed to get serious talks started immediately.

"There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967," Bush told reporters in Jerusalem on Thursday. "The agreement must establish a Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people."

Bush also called on Palestinians to confront terrorists and dismantle "terrorist infrastructure."

"Security is fundamental," the president said. "No agreement and no Palestinian state will be born of terror."

Bush also appealed for "Arab countries to reach out to Israel."

"In order for there to be lasting peace... Abbas and Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert have to come together and make tough choices and Im convinced they will," he said in Ramallah.

"I believe it's going to happen, that there's going to be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office."

However, Bush also reiterated that the U.S. cannot dictate the terms of peace nor the terms of what a state will look like.

"But we'll help, and we want to help," he added.

Both Abbas and Olmert agreed to work toward such an agreement at the Nov. 27 U.S.-sponsored peace summit in Annapolis, Md.

After two days immersed in Mideast peacemaking, Bush toured Christian holy sites in northern Israel on Friday, listening as robed clerics read him biblical passages about Jesus' days of ministry there centuries ago.

Bush visited Capernaum, a site where Jesus performed miracles, and gazed across the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. The president toured the site of an ancient synagogue and held hands with nuns outside the Church of the Beatitudes, where many believe Jesus delivered his famed "Sermon on the Mount."

When asked how it felt to walk in Jesus' footsteps, Bush called it an "amazing experience."

During the visit, Bush was given a crystal statue inscribed with the words "Blessed are those who are peacemakers for they will be called children of God," from the sermon recounted in the fifth chapter of the book of Matthew.

Archbishop Elias Shakur, the Greek Catholic clergyman who showed Bush around the site, said he asked him, "Did you come as a politician, as a leader of state, or as a pilgrim?"

"I came as a pilgrim," Bush said, according to Shakur.

Bush also toured Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, which he called a "sobering reminder that evil exists and a call that when we find evil we must resist it."

The peace effort was the centerpiece of Bush's eight-day tour, which ends Wednesday.

But Bush – only the second U.S. head of state to visit the Palestinian territories – faces the difficult task of winning over the hearts and minds of Palestinians, who are deeply skeptical about his ability to be an even-handed peace broker as Israel`s closest ally.

"I don't believe he (Bush) will do anything for the Palestinians," said Mohammad Khaldi, a 64-year-old Ramallah resident, according to AFP. "If he wanted to really do something, he had six years for that and he didn`t do a single thing."

On his way to Kuwait, to visit Sunni Arab allies, Bush said he'd would ask them to reach out to the Jewish state.

From Kuwait he was then scheduled to head to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where he is expected to discuss with U.S. allies in the region various issues including Iraq's security, the role of Iran in the region and others. Bush returns to Washington on Wednesday.