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April 06, 2003

Now, the Palestine Question

Before the dust has settledin Iraq, MSNBC says, the Israeli/Palestinian problem will be confronted . The US is not likely to have the willing parnter in Great Britian it has had in the war with Iraq.
NINE DECADES ON, the list of broken Western promises has grown longer. But Tony Blair means to leave all that behind. The British prime minister has long argued that an Israeli-Palestinian peace is central to solving post-9-11 security worries. He angered Arabs, his own Labour Party and continental Europeans by supporting the war in Iraq. Going forward, he knows that pushing the Americans toward an Israeli-Palestinian solution could be a giant step in mending ties with all three of those camps. Hence his promise that seeking a Middle East peace will become a “central priority” once the shooting stops in Iraq.

The question is whether George W. Bush will be with him. At Camp David last month, the U.S. president claimed so. “Soon,” he said, Washington and London will release their “road map” for peace, drawn up by the so-called Quartet—the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. In Brussels last week, after every single European foreign minister mentioned how important it was that the United States backed the road map, Colin Powell declared it would be published, without amendments, when the government of the new Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen is confirmed.

Nobody’s holding their breath, however. Palestinians point out that the much-anticipated plan has already been delayed six times. By some accounts, the Israelis have already asked for 100 amendments. Skeptics say that Washington might well lack the political will to go beyond symbolic gestures. The Bush administration is busy with Iraq, and may think it safer to park the peace process until after the 2004 elections. “We are as committed to Palestinian peace as to Iraqi peace,” says a senior State Department official. But appointing a new prime minister won’t by itself ensure progress, he adds. “Security needs to be established. You have to end the violence.”

Such caveats may be too open-ended for Blair. He is determined to push the pace on the Middle East, and U.S. recalcitrance would be one of the few things that could unsettle his cozy relationship with Washington. Blair has pressed Bush at each of their recent meetings not only to release the road map as soon as possible but to cast it as part of a broader effort to engage their bruised European allies, chiefly France and Germany. According to Downing Street aides, the two leaders will discuss the issue once again at their summit in Northern Ireland this week. [more]