JERUSALEM - President Bush gently urged Mideast leaders to "make the hard choices necessary for peace," leaving it to embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stand before a divided parliament yesterday and forcefully declare that this war-weary nation was ready for a historic agreement with Palestinians.
On a day mourned by Palestinians as the 60th anniversary of their uprooting by Israel's independence, Bush mentioned the Palestinians once in a 23-minute speech to the Knesset - and then only in the context of what a Palestinian state would look like six decades from now.
Some Israelis and Palestinians were disappointed that Bush failed to use his high-profile appearance to push the two sides to take the concrete steps to achieve his own goal of a peace deal before the end of his presidency.
In his remarks, Bush did not delve into the obstacles but skipped to a rosy scenario 60 years ahead.
"Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people," Bush forecast. "The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserve - a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade."
He did not explain how that would be achieved. Bush predicted that Iran and Syria would be peaceful nations and that al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas would be defeated.
On a five-day Mideast trip, Bush flies to Saudi Arabia today and to Egypt tomorrow.
Bush's speech was seen as a missed opportunity by some on both sides.
"It was an embarrassing speech, a collection of slogans that somebody wrote for him in order to be nice to Israel, or what he thinks is Israel, and to steer well clear of anything concrete," said Israeli lawmaker Yossi Beilin, a member of the dovish Meretz party and one of the prime architects of the Oslo peace accords. "It's a shame and a scandal, in my opinion."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said of Bush: "He could have been much different. We expected the president to really tell the Israelis that to really live in peace and security . . . the occupation must end and an independent Palestinian state must be created. This would have been the speech we expected, but unfortunately we didn't hear it."
It was left to Olmert to make the most forceful case for a peace agreement as Bush listened a few feet away.
Olmert spoke of an accord "based on two states for two people, a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace."