Bush's nudge and wink diplomacy

Al Jazeera examines if the US president was even-handed in the Middle East.


    Bush visited the ancient village of Capernaum, close to where Jesus is said to have
    fed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish [AFP]

    George Bush, the US president, wrapped up his visit to the Holy Land walking in the footsteps of Jesus at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but few observers expect the miracle of peace to come in the American leader's wake.

    Bush declared his intention was to nudge both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to sign up to a treaty before he leaves the White House in a year's time.

    However, ordinary Palestinians felt that it was their president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was getting all the nudges while Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, was getting the winks.
    President Bush said that the occupation had to end, but in the same breath indicated there would be no return to the borders that existed before the 1967 war.

    That seems to mean that he would allow Israel to keep the large settlement blocks built illegally on occupied Palestinian land.

    Right of return

    The right of return for Palestinian refugees was also publicly buried, replaced by a compensation formula, finally turning the presidential back on UN resolutions that have sustained Palestinian hopes for generations.

    As for the need to provide the Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem, Bush described the issue as a "tough one" and said he would leave it to the negotiating teams.

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    The Palestinians have long known the United States cannot be relied upon to be an impartial referee in their dispute with the Israelis but Bush managed to rub salt in that long-lasting wound during his three-day visit.

    The fact that an American air force general has been appointed to make sure both sides stick to their obligations in the road map to a two state solution has at least been welcomed by the Palestinians.

    On the issue of Israeli settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, the US president said they would have to go. But despite this, Israeli officials said that the building of new neighbourhoods in Har Homa in east Jerusalem would continue.

    Bush will return to Israel in May for the country's 60th anniversary celebrations. However, it is not certain that Olmert will be there to greet him at the steps of Air Force One once again.
    The final report of the Winograd committee into the Lebanon war in summer 2006 is due to be published at the end of this month. If the Israeli prime minister survives its damning conclusions, it will be largely thanks to the huge show of support Bush has given him.

    As for Abbas, he still has precious little to show for his peace partnership with the Israelis and every stumble that is made on the road map will make Hamas's hold on the Gaza Strip ever stronger.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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