George Bush is headed to Israel.
Snipers posted on rooftops, entire city blocks sealed off, thousands of police on duty - Israel and the Palestinian Authority are going on full alert for US President George W. Bush's visit.
According to the Herald Sun Israeli police say 10,500 officers and border guards will be on duty and all intelligence services in the security-obsessed country placed on high alert for operation "Clear Sky" when Air Force One touches down on Wednesday.
On the Palestinian side, 4000 law enforcement officials will be deployed in Ramallah alone, with additional personnel in the city of Bethlehem.
"This is the largest operation since the pope's visit in 2000," Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The Jewish Telegraph Agency reports police in Jerusalem declared a "Gimmel" terrorist alert Tuesday, the second-highest level, to allow for Israeli security forces and American agents to intensify their scouring of the capital for potential threats.
Bush's visit, which begins Wednesday, has stirred concern that he could be targeted in a Palestinian attack. Israel also fears attempts by right-wing Jewish activists to sabotage the visit in protest at the Olmert government's supposed policy - welcomed by Washington - of curbing West Bank settlement activity.
On the other hand yesterday, Peace Now activists held a protest near the West Bank outpost of Migron, and called on the government to halt all construction in the settlements and evacuate the illegal outposts in the area.
One of the organization's leaders Mossi Raz said that all illegal outposts "must be evacuated now, and the settlements as well. This government's promises are worth nothing, and outposts and settlements keep expanding all the time."
Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer added, "On the eve of President George W. Bush's visit we came here to express what the Israeli public believes in, and that is that Israel should evacuate the illegal outposts and adhere to its international commitments."
Americans For Peace Now sent a letter to the U.S. leader Friday urging him to immediately establish a U.S. mechanism to monitor the process, clarify that the "road map" requires both sides to honor their obligations, press both sides to formalize their negotiating teams, and insist that Palestinians fight violence and terror.
The group also asked Bush to demand that Israel not jeopardize the peace process as well as transparency and accountability from the Palestinian Authority, and urge Israel to facilitate an economic recovery in the West Bank. It also asked the president to intervene in the growing conflict between Israel and Egypt along the Gaza Strip-Egypt border.
“The desire to pressure Hamas notwithstanding, the dramatic deterioration in the health and welfare of civilians in Gaza over the past year represents an entirely man-made, and entirely avoidable, humanitarian tragedy,” Americans For Peace Now said in urging the president to address the humanitarian crisis there.
“As we have said before, the pursuit of Middle East peace is not for the irresolute or faint of heart,” the group added. “It requires courage, vision, determination, tenacious leadership and a clear focus on the end-game.”
Meanwhile, it is also reported that thousands of members of the Islamic Jihad marched through Gaza City on Tuesday, shouting "death to Israel and America" in protest at US President George W. Bush's Middle East tour.
"Bush, you will never halt the march of Islam or the march of the Palestinian people," Jihad leader Abdullah al-Shami said in an address to protesters on the eve of Bush's arrival in Israel.
Hundreds of other Palestinians in Gaza had earlier protested at Bush's visit while calling for international pressure on Israel to end punishing sanctions and military strikes aimed at stemming near daily rocket-fire from the increasingly isolated territory.
AFP says among the demonstrators were around 100 Gazans confined to wheelchairs, rolling down the potholed streets of the city to protest Israeli border closures, which have cut the territory off from all but vital goods.
"Help Gaza or you condemn it to a slow death," one sign said. "We are killed by American weapons and we are besiege because of American decision," read another.
"We are calling on the international community and the US administration to adhere to international law and put pressure on Israel to open the crossings," said Abdel Majid al-Aalul, head of a Hamas-linked charity.
And again, not to be forgotten, are right wing Jews in Jerusalem who are taking to the streets to protest Bush as well. Demonstrators' carried placards which read: "Bush. Read your Bible. God gave Israel to the Jews!" and "Bush: Founding father of Hamastine." Today thousands of Israeli nationalists formed a human chain around Jerusalem's Old City to protest peace talks with the Palestinians ahead of the visit by Bush.
"This human chain unites generations whose souls and bodies have been tied to Jerusalem," organiser Yehiel Leiter told AFP.
"We want to show on the eve of President Bush's arrival that Olmert does not represent this nation that wants to keep its eternal capital united," he said.
These protesters say that Ehud Olmert does not have a national mandate from the people to divide Jerusalem.
Later in the day, starting at 6:00 PM, a coalition of activist groups will gather in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa to declare that building in the settlements will continue in defiance of the Olmert/Bush freeze on further expansion. From there, groups will set out to establish new hilltop communities throughout Judea and Samaria.
But we're not done.
The Almagor Terror Victims Association has announced a series of protest vigils outside the main locations where President Bush will hold meetings. They are planning to erect a gigantic poster, pictured below which shows President Bush as the founding father of “HAMAStine."
Of course, this would surprise Hamas which has stated the visit was not more than an attempt by Bush "to put his final touches and enhance his image before he quits the White House."
"Bush's promises of creating a Palestinian statehood are illusions that won't come true," said Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoom.
Barhoom implicitly slammed President Abbas and some officials of his Fatah movement for welcoming Bush, saying "those are a few people who only represent themselves and put themselves among the American-Zionists."
Personally, if I were Bush, I might think about just going down to Crawford and clearing some more Brush instead.
And if I were the people of Israel and Palestine, I'd encourage him to do just that.
And, by the way, God help us all if anything happens to Bush on this trip.
The following is from Al Jazeera.
Protest in Gaza against Bush visit
Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have gathered to protest against the visit of the US president to the occupied West Bank in a bid to push forward talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The protesters gathered in Gaza City on Tuesday, saying that George Bush is indifferent to their condition.
Bush will not visit the territory as part of his tour of the Middle East which starts on Wednesday.
The protest was also against the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza. Protesters carried 62 coffins symbolising those who have died because they have been unable to leave the area for medical treatment.
Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna said: "If the US president's motorcade ever travelled in Gaza City, he would see young school pupils and their parents and teachers demonstrating against the ongoing Israeli siege.
Jerusalem spruced up for Bush visit
"He would see the medical supplies that have stopped coming in to Gaza, the shortage of fuel following the Israeli decision to reduce the amount of fuel piped across the border and the periodic shutting down of the power stations.
"If George W Bush ever came to Gaza, he would see the ordinary people who do not fire Qassam missiles over the border into Israel. He would experience the darkness of an existence that Gazans believe results from the collective punishment of a civilian population supposedly prohibited by international law."
Negotiating sessions since the gathering in Annapolis, Maryland, in late November have been marred by Israeli construction plans in disputed territory and violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
On Tuesday, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, will discuss procedural matters, including which negotiators will be assigned to thrash out the various issues that divide the two sides.
Olmert is to host Abbas at his Jerusalem residence for their second meeting since they relaunched peace talks at a US conference in late November.
Israeli settlements and army operations against Palestinian fighters - key sources of discord - are due to feature prominently in Tuesday's meeting and during the Bush visit.
So far in January, the death toll among Palestinians has risen to 19 while 25 have been injured. Israel recently completed a raid on Nablus in the West Bank during which it arrested several Palestinians.
Israeli forces moved into Gaza after a series of rocket attacks from the territory into southern Israel.
Mustafa al-Barghouti, the head of the political movement the Palestinian National Initiative, blamed Israel for the deadlock at a news conference on Tuesday.
"Israel's impunity has increased after Annapolis, and we fear further Israeli military escalation after Bush's visit," al-Barghouti told a news conference.
"Nothing will change and the situation will not improve as long as Israel maintains its 562 checkpoints, continues the building of thousands of housing units in more than 800 settlements, and continues building the segregation wall and has not dismantled a single settlement."
The Israeli view
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Mark Regev, spokesman for Olmert, defended the Israeli military operations.
He said: "We've got a situation where the Palestinian security services need to get their act together need to rebuilt, need to be retrained. They need to have their capabilities improved.
"That's not just the Israeli position, that's the position of the Arab world, the Europeans, of everyone who has following this process. And so I will say publically and clearly: when Palestinain security is ready to meet the challenges, then Israeli security will not have any need to act.
"If Israel, were to allow a security vaccum to develop in the West Bank ... who would enter that security vaccum? Only the extremists.
"And not only would innocent people be killed, but you would see the peace process be killed."
In another development, Haaretz, the Israeli daily, has reported that the government had refused to publish a report containing full details of settlement constructions, including outposts and neighbourhoods built across the Green Line.
In response to a high court petition on the matter, the defence ministry is arguing that publication would harm state security and Israel's foreign relations.
Haaretz and Maariv also said that the Israeli housing ministry was pushing for the construction of more than 1,000 units on lands "held by absentee Palestinians" from the Bethlehem area to expand the settlement of Har Homa.
Har Homa is built on confiscated Palestinian land in Jabal Abu Ghnaim in occupied East Jerusalem.