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 United States 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 told the Israeli lawmakers. “We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”
Democrats angrily called the comment a veiled shot at Obama, who has advocated dialogue with Iran and Syria, but not Hamas.
“We have a protocol … around here that we don’t criticize the president when he is on foreign soil,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “One would think that that would apply to the president, that he would not criticize Americans when he is on foreign soil. I think what the president did in that regard is beneath the dignity of the office of president and unworthy of our representation at that observance in Israel.”
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, used an expletive to describe Bush’s comment. He went on to say: “For this president to leave the country and unleash a political attack on Senator Obama and the Democrats cannot go unanswered. We’re not going to tolerate this swiftboating,” he said, referring to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign in 2004 to impugn the war record of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee.