"If he wants democracy in the Middle-East, the most ready area for elections in all forms, both regional and local, is Palestine", Palestinian minister of negotiations, Saib Uraiqat told Aljazeera.net

"Why can't we begin with democracy in Palestine?",  Uraiqat asked.

Pledging to "challenge the enemies of reform", Bush said "America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East".

Uraiqat said the fact that Bush did not make direct reference to the peace process "could mean that 2004 would see continuing US disengagement from peacemaking resulting in more deterioration, chaos, absence of stability and peace".

The minister added it was hoped Bush would mention plans for the peace process for 2004 and "a commitment to a two-nation state by 2005".

Ignoring the so-called road map to peace, Bush, in his speech, said the US "will confront the allies of terror and expect a higher standard from our friends".

US dishonest

Adding its voice to the criticism was resistance group Hamas who said the US "is not honest in telling the truth when speaking about democracy in the Middle-East".

"They have supported dictators in the region," said Usama Hamdan, Hamas representative in Lebanon.

"We believe Bush is not working for democracy in the region. They (the US) are working for their own benefits by using the name of democracy"

Usama Hamdan,
Hamas representative in Lebanon

"We believe Bush is not working for democracy in the region. They (the US) are working for their own benefits by using the name of democracy".

Hamdan put the fact that Bush ignored the Palestinian-Israeli situation down to "electioneering". 

"He (Bush) does not want any problems with the Zionists in the US", stressed Hamadan.

Bush, he added, had "no real initiative to solve the issue on the basis of justice and the rights of the Palestinians".

Failure

"The road map did not work", said Hamdan, "and Bush therefore, does not want to show up or acknowledge the failure of his actions".

"That is not the basis for an interview, for my people, for the Israeli government, the fact that Bush did not mention the Israeli, Palestinian situation in his speech"

David Baker,
Media liaison officer, Israeli government

Bush said that "hateful propaganda" would be dealt with. "The Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian and soon a new television service will begin providing reliable news and information across the region".

He also said a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy would be issued to focus its new work on the "development of free elections, free markets, free press, and free labour unions in the Middle East".

Israel evasive

A leading Israeli newspaper pointed to the omission by Bush in his speech - regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - in one of its leading stories on Wednesday.

The Israeli government, including media liaison David Baker, refused to comment on the omission to Aljazeera.net.

"That is not the basis for an interview, for my people, for the Israeli government, the fact that Bush did not mention the Israeli-Palestinian situation in his speech", said Baker when contacted.  "No comment", he stressed.