Friday, January 11, 2008

The Eleventh Hour Epiphany?

What a pity, what a very great pity that this Administration left this move until now. How much different might the world be if this had happened in 2000?
US President George W Bush told Palestinians on Thursday he believed they would sign a peace treaty with Israel within a year that would give them their own state.

Challenging sceptics on the first visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah by a US president, he told a news conference with President Mahmoud Abbas: "I believe it's going to happen, that there will be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office."

In some of the boldest language he has used since hosting a summit at Annapolis in the United States in November that relaunched peace negotiations after a seven-year hiatus, Bush added: "I am confident that with proper help the state of Palestine will emerge."

Officials have said that any treaty signed by the time Bush steps down next January would not lead to the immediate creation of a new state. A number of formalities would remain and Israel has made it clear it will not end its occupation of the West Bank until it is sure its own territory is safe from attack.

Bush also said that he was unsure that the isolation of the Gaza Strip, a major part of any future state, could be solved within the year. Abbas lost control of the enclave in June to Hamas Islamists who are fighting Israeli forces. Hamas hostility to the peace talks is a major obstacle to any peace deal.

Bush said Washington, Israel's closest ally and now a strong backer of Abbas' administration, stood ready to provide both political and economic backing but that Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must "come together to make hard choices".

Speaking at the Muqata compound where the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was besieged by Israeli forces just a few years ago, Arafat's successor Abbas hailed Bush as the first US president to commit fully to back a Palestinian state.

The reticence of the US to tackle the problems of the Middle East head-on, Israel and Palestine in particular, in a fair and rational manner has been one of my major criticisms of successive administrations going right back to Carter and the Camp David meetings.

Will this time around the mulberry bush be any different? Certainly I fervently hope. Reality tells me not to hold my breath.

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