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BUSH ENTRY TICKET

Bush Peace Effort Between Israelis & Palestinians Pays Price Of Admission For Rest Of Middle East Tour

Impression Of Israeli-Palestinian Process Helps Preserve America's Regional Interests

Bush Solution Unlikely To Change Much No Matter Which Candidate Wins Presidential Election

U.S President George W. Bush

U.S. President George W. Bush has come and gone saying the right things in Jerusalem & Ramallah to shore up his Israeli & Palestinian partners. Bush told Israelis 'to end the occupation' and the Palestinians 'to end the terrorism'. This was not new but it was something that America's Arab allies needed to hear before he lands in their capitals. These Arab leaders, who also feel the threat of el Qaeda and of a nuclear armed Iran, are under pressure from their 'Arab streets' for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The IsraCast assessment is that Bush tried hard to shore up Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas but the question is for how long?

U.S. George W. Bush has come and gone and although it has changed little if anything between Israelis and Palestinians it has paved the way for the American leader's trip to the rest of the Middle East. By telling Israel to 'end the occupation' and the Palestinians to 'end the terrorism' Bush has pleased his Arab allies in the region. Threatened by al Qaeda and a nuclear armed Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a flash - point on the 'Arab streets'. The one thing that the U.S.A. must not be viewed as doing, is doing nothing. Arab leaders went to the recent Annapolis conference, Bush has now reciprocated by keeping the process rolling along. Precious little else has been advanced by the two sides on their own.

Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert

The Bush visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah were but pieces in the larger Middle East mosaic where Iraq, Iran and a guaranteed oil supply to the Western world is at the top of the U.S. agenda. The Iranian provocation in the Straits of Hormuz highlighted the volatility of the current situation. In his last year in office, George Bush came to bolster America's vital interests in the region and shore up its relations with regional allies. After ' nudging ' Olmert and Abbas to move ahead, Bush has showed he is is doing his part (The fierce warnings from America's enemies in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip, south Lebanon, Damascus, Iran and from al Qaeda also illustrate the ideologic warfare now being waged). While saying what Arab leaders expected, Bush articulated America's long standing commitment to the Jewish state. The fact is that the U.S. position has changed little since the Roger's Plan after the Six-Day War of 1967. It calls for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory to secure and recognized borders. Bush has added the vision of an independent Palestinian state coexisting in peace with the Jewish state of Israel. That is the overall framework for an agreement on such core issues as security, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem.

Olmert and Abbas have now agreed to a general discussion of these questions based on the Road Map, an internationally accepted plan for resolving the dispute. But at present, Palestinian President Abbas represents only the West Bank at best and even there his authority is challenged by his own armed militias who refuse to dismantle terror organizations. However, Hamas Islamists rule the Gaza Strip where they continually rocket Israel. After being brutally expelled from Gaza, Abbas has yet to outgrow the image of what Ariel Shaon once called a 'plucked chick'. For his part, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, could be facing a political guillotine on January 30th when the Winnograd Enquiry is expected to release another scathing report on Olmert's conduct of the Second Lebanon War.

So, in light of the fragile leadership on both sides Bush appealed to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to follow their 'courageous' leaders in making painful concessions. In Jerusalem, the U.S. President declared: 'Security and Israeli occupation don't go together' while in Ramallah he told the Palestinians: 'Territory and terrorism don't go together'.

But if both Israelis and Palestinians blame each other for 'starting it' who should go first in overcoming the impasse. In answer to a reporter's question about illegal Israeli outposts on the West Bank, Bush retorted 'They ought to go!' (There are over an estimated twenty unauthorised outposts set up by Israeli settlers above and beyond the fully approved Israeli settlements).

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised Bush to start dismanting these outposts and so has Olmert but nothing has been done so far. Although Olmert could start the ball rolling by risking a clash with right wingers and starting to remove the outposts, his coalition partners Avigdor Lieberman and Shas have threatened to topple the government. They argue why should Israel start dismanting settlements while the Palestinians have not even complied with stage one of the Road Map that calls for halting the terrorism. To add insult to injury, the Palestinians in Gaza launched 20 rockets into Israel during the first twenty four hours of the Bush visit. Then again, regardless of all the pomp and ceremony of the Bush visit, the entire Israeli political establishment is on hold waiting for the Winnograd report. It is impossible to predict whether Olmert will survive and how his coalition partners will react because they will only decide on the basis of the public's reaction to what is expected to be another condemnation of Olmert's conduct of the Second Lebanon War.

In this respect, immediately after President Bush took off from Ben-Gurion Airport, his visit was 'history' but on the other hand he did restate America's position on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it is unlikely this will change no matter who wins the U.S. presidential election this year. Israelis and Palestinians should take into account that U.S. regional interests and commitments will prevail no matter which man or woman sits in the White House.

David Essing

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