Some of the road blocks erected by the United States on the “road–map” for progress towards a setttlement between Israel and the Palestinians were shifted slightly in Washington. President Bushreceived UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and representatives of the EU and Russia – the three entities which, with the United States, make up the so–called Quartet which has been working on the aforementioned road–map since mid–September. The attention given by the President to this meeting was mildly encouraging since previously Washington had signalled that it did not want to finalise these proposals before Israel's general election late in January lest they became a target for criticism during the election campaign. That remains the Bush administration's position but the President re–affirmed the target of establishing within three years a Palestinian state, living in peace and security beside Israel, which he first proposed in June of this year. Unfortunately, however, there are countless other road blocks in the way of real progress. Some of the language used by Bush in his earlier speech has been blurred. For instance, instead of an unambiguous reference to a Palestinian state the preferred wording is now “a state with certain attributes of sovereignty” (whatever that might mean) which could be formed only when the Palestinians have a leader “uncompromised by terror”. Perhaps a comparable phrase should be drafted to make clear what in his past record might disqualify an Israeli politican from standing for election as leader of his state. Overall, this peace plan consists of three phases of reciprocal steps by Palestinians and Israelis. For the Palestinians, the initial requirements are for an end to terrorist attacks and reforms in their government. For its part Israel would be expected to pull troops out of Palestinian areas, ease the conditions of Palestinians living in those areas, and end “settlement activity” on what the plan calls, perhaps significantly, “occupied territory”. The phrase “settlement activity” is disappointing because it implies new activity whereas an essential requirement of any peace plan is a withdrawal by Israel from all, or a substantial number, of its illegal settlements established for some time on occupied land. Despite these and some other unsatisfactory compromises in the document, it is encouraging that the United States is working constructively on a peace plan that does not expect the Palestinians to make all the concessions and the Israelis none, as others have done in the past. The fact that this is a more even–handed approach almost certainly owes a great deal to the involvement of the European Union, Russia and the UN in its preparation. However, because of Washington's insistence on waiting for the Israeli election before launching the road–plan, valuable time is being lost and, indeed, this promising initiative could be lost altogether, with serious consequences, if action against Iraq is allowed to take precedence over it.