George and Laura wish Israel happy birthday

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The Independent US

It doesn't get much cheesier than this. Certainly, not all Carole King fans will applaud the choice of her "You've Got a Friend" as the centrepiece of the entertainment provided for President George Bush last night at an event in Jerusalem to salute his unswerving support for the Israeli leadership over the past seven years. But the Israeli singer Adi Cohen's rendition of it at the international conference hosted by President Shimon Peres set the seal on a day of relentless, high octane professions of mutual admiration to mark Israel's 60th anniversary.

On this, his second, and presumably last, visit to the Holy Land as the President of the United States, Mr Bush brought with him some "beautiful presents" for Mr Peres. But as Channel One's reporter Ayala Hasson tantalisingly explained, the details could not be disclosed "for security reasons". What could this mean?

True, the newspaper Yedhiot Ahronot had in the morning speculated that the US President would mark Israel's 60th by transferring "goodies" negotiated between the two governments in the preceding weeks, such as "advanced types of armament, fighter planes, cruise missiles and new radar systems that will increase the early-warning time for surface-to-surface missile fire". But you had to hope that the mysterious gifts he brought to lunch at the Israeli President's official residence yesterday were a little more, well, homely.

Unwittingly or not, the choice of the King song "When you're down and troubled/ And you need a helping hand/ And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right... soon I'll be there" had a more personal sub-text. For the President did his best yesterday to "be there" for Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, facing what may be his most serious police investigation yet into past funding he received from the American businessman Morris Talansky during his terms as Jerusalem mayor and industry minister.

Mr Bush, who had told Israeli reporters in Washington on Monday that Mr Olmert was an "honest guy", hugged him in greeting after touching down at Ben Gurion airport yesterday. Mr Olmert was picked up on the broadcasters' microphones telling the US National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley: "Holding on, holding on, don't worry."

This is a visit focusing a great deal more on the birthday state than on its neighbours. Mr Bush is not making the ritual trip to the West Bank, as he did last January to visit Mr Abbas, though he will see him in Sharm el Sheikh, in Egypt, this week. And it is unclear how far, when he addresses the Knesset today – the actual anniversary, in the non-Jewish calendar, of the creation of Israel – he will acknowledge that it is also for the Palestinians the "Nakba", or "disaster" day, commemorating the forcing out and fleeing of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948.

"Our nations relied on the same principles to help us succeed," he said. "We built strong democracies to protect the freedoms given to us by an almighty God... and we built an enduring alliance to confront terrorists and tyrants."

Not all Israeli commentators have been that impressed. Yedhiot carried a piece by Yitzhak Benhorin pointing out that Mr Bush's approval rating had a hit a "nadir" of 31 per cent while Mr Olmert's was as "soft as pudding". The article was headlined: "A meeting of two lame ducks."

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