The Bush administration has little hope that an interim
Palestinian state will be established in 2004.
Officials said President George Bush and his top aides were said to have
concluded that the prospect of a dramatic breakthrough that would lead to an
agreement for an interim Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and most of the
West Bank appears unlikely in 2004. They said the administration envisions a
continuing cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence fueled by Iran and
Hizbullah that will rule out virtually any diplomatic gain.
The president did not mention Arab or Gulf allies of the United States
in the war in Iraq. An official said at least one GCC state asked Bush not
to mention such cooperation so as to avoid unrest in the Gulf region. Unlike
previous years, Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, did
not attend the State of the Union address.
Bush's decision to leave out the Arab-Israeli conflict was quickly
noticed by the Democratic opposition in the House and Senate.
"Everybody right now is in a holding pattern and that means the chance
of an agreement of any sort is low," an administration official said. "The
main aim of the administration is to keep the violence from spiraling out of
Officials said the administration still hopes that both Israel and the
Palestinian Authority will achieve progress on the internationally-sponsored
plan, which calls for a Palestinian state with permanent borders in 2005.
They said the administration had pressed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
to dismantle unauthorized outposts and withdraw troops from some areas of
the West Bank in measures aimed to facilitate this process.
On Thursday, a senior aide of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dov
Weisglass, meets U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other
senior administration officials to discuss the roadmap and efforts to
establish a Palestinian state. Officials said Weisglass was called to
Washington as part of a message by the administration that it will not
abandon efforts to advance the roadmap during 2004.
Officials said Sharon, who has been named in a bribery scandal in
Israel, was expected to arrive in Washington in February to meet Bush and
discuss a series of measures meant to accelerate plans to establish a
Palestinian state. In preparations for that meeting, they said, the
administration plans to send several senior officials to the Middle East,
including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield and
ambassador John Wolf. Wolf, appointed by the president to oversee the
implementation of the roadmap plan, was not in Israel during most of the
last half of 2003.
"They're going to make clear, as we have been doing for some time, that
in order to make progress on the president's ø on the roadmap and the
president's 2002 vision of two states, both sides need to meet their
responsibilities and obligations," State Department deputy spokesman Adam
Ereli said on Wednesday. "We're going to be looking for concrete steps from
the Palestinians to confront terror and violence, as well as progress on
reform. And we will be reiterating to Israel the need for sustained efforts
to improve the humanitarian situation and stick to other commitments,
including settlement and outpost activity."
Officials said the administration does not want to establish a
Palestinian state that would contain what they term a terrorist
infrastructure. They said such a development would further destabilize the
region and could affect U.S. plans to begin to withdraw from Iraq in 2005.
On Tuesday, Bush did not mention the Arab-Israeli conflict in his State
of the Union address. The foreign policy section of Bush's speech was
limited to such administration successes as the U.S. capture of Saddam
Hussein and Libya's decision to dismantle weapons of mass destruction
program and the example it could set for Iran and North Korea.
"As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and
anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the
safety of America and our friends," Bush said. "So America is pursuing a
forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge
the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher
standard from our friend."
the administration has decided to disengage from the conflict.
"Instead of the diplomatic disengagement that almost destroyed the
Middle East peace process and aggravated the danger posed by North Korea,"
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said, "let us seek to forge agreements
and coalitions -- so that, together with others, we can address challenges
before they threaten the security of the world."
Many Arab and Western diplomats regarded Bush's speech as a message to
the Middle East that Iraq, rather than the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, would
be the focus of his administration's policy in 2004. They said Washington
would maintain a low-profile effort to advance a Palestinian state.