After boarding Air Force One around 7 PM EST on Tuesday, we had a great flight to Israel. There’s always a lot of activity on the flight over – some people read briefing papers, work on last-minute logistical issues, suggest edits to the President’s remarks…and others, like me, stake out territory to get some sleep on the overnight flight. We ate dinner while watching the New Hampshire primary returns come in…but I fell asleep before the networks called the Democratic primary.
I woke up at 2:30 AM EST and began reading the morning news traffic on one of the computers on board. Later, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and I walked back to the Press cabin (14 rotating members of the White House Press Corps always travel with the President) for the gaggle
. Mr. Hadley highlighted an encouraging agreement reached yesterday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas which authorizes their negotiating teams to conduct direct and ongoing negotiations and to start intensive discussions about major issues surrounding the Middle East peace process.
This development makes important progress on the first of three parallel tracks agreed to at the Annapolis conference:
Track 1: Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians for an outline of an agreement for a Palestinian state
Track 2: Implementation of the Road Map
Track 3: Building the institutions of a Palestinian state
Meetings with Israeli Leaders
As we descended into Tel Aviv, many of us looked out the window to see a country that some of us have only seen in pictures. At 11:49 AM local time, we touched down at Ben-Gurion International Airport where the President immediately participated in an arrival ceremony. The Israelis welcomed us with a beautiful display, including a red carpet lined by the Israeli delegation. President Bush enjoyed greeting President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Olmert and took time to shake hands with each member of the Israeli delegation. And arriving in another country to the tune of America’s National Anthem is always a memorable experience.
Next, we took helicopters to the King David Hotel and I was struck by the beauty of the country. The King David overlooks the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of Saint James.
Like every day on this trip, President Bush had a packed schedule. First, the President met with President Peres at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, a building completed in 1971 constructed entirely of local materials, including pink-hued and golden Jerusalem stone. His next stop was at the Prime Minister’s Residence for a meeting with Prime Minister Olmert. Located in West Jerusalem, the building was originally created for a Jewish Greek merchant and purchased in 1950 by the Government of Israel. At 6:25 PM, the President wrapped up his day with a Joint Press Availability
with Prime Minister Olmert in the courtyard of the Prime Minister’s residence.
Shortly after, Stephen Hadley dropped by the Press Filing Center to discuss the President’s daily meetings with the White House Press Corps.
Preview of the West Bank and Bethlehem Visits
Tomorrow, President Bush will start his day in Jerusalem with a meeting with the family of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. From there, he’ll travel on Marine One to Ramallah for an expanded meeting, joint press availability, and working lunch with President Abbas. While in the West Bank, he’ll also meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Later in the day, he’ll visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem before returning to Jerusalem to thank our diplomats serving at the United States Embassy and participate in a working dinner with the Prime Minister of Israel.
We’re looking forward to sharing more details from this historic visit soon. Tomorrow, Counselor to the President Ed Gillespie will post a trip note.