Nature abhors a vacuum. So, too, does politics. President George W Bush allowed a political vacuum to develop in the Middle East after he took office last January and now we can see the result.

Even when the events of September 11 made clear the urgent need for the United States to involve itself in the Israel/Palestine dispute the warning was ignored.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell made his long–delayed speech about the dispute a couple of weeks ago it contained absolutely nothing new. Now President Bush has moved to fill the vacuum – in true Texan fashion he has deputized Ariel Sharon as sheriff to bring order to the territory. Prime Minister Sharon, it should be remembered, is the man who was censured by an Israeli judicial commisssion, and forced to resign as Defence Minister, for the “personal responsibility” he bore for the massacre thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in September 1982. He is not really qualified to talk about terrorism or to be put in charge of dealing with it. The suicide bombings of last weekend were dreadful events. But Israel's and Palestine's streets have seen hundreds of atrocities in the past two years – neither side is innocent, each is equally guilty of the killings and woundings. However, the assumption that Israel stands on the moral high ground – which President Bush has now chosen to make – is totally unjustified by the facts.

The attempts to demonise Yassir Arafat are disgraceful – especially when led by Ariel Sharon. Washington's decision to hand over its responsibility to Israel is seriously misguided and will worsen, not ameliorate, an already highly dangerous situation. It destroys America's authority as an impartial peace–maker.

Ray Fleming

Cyprus and EU

It is twenty–seven years since Turkish forces invaded northern Cyprus and occupied two–fifths of the island.
A United Nations peacekeeping force still patrols the ”dead zone” which lies between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island.
Many attempts have been made by the UN to bring about a settlement which would return Cyprus to some kind of normalcy, but without success. Now the prospect of membership of an enlarged European Union is focusing minds on an agreement and meetings are taking place between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities this week. It will not be easy. The Greek Cypriot government is recognised internationally and the EU is dealing with it on enlargement issues. This does not please the Turkish community in Cyprus or the Turkish government which has said that it will formally annex the northern part of Cyprus if the island is admitted to the EU without its involvement in the negotiations.

Greece, a member of the EU unlike Turkey, has responded that it will veto all EU enlargement plans if Cyprus' application is not approved during the accession negotiations next year.

Matters are made more complicated by the fact of Turkey's own interest in joining the EU.
Cyprus has been trouble in one way or another since the 1950s and looks like remaining so for some time yet.



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