THE best description I have seen of this week's London conference on the new Palestinian state came from columnist Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post, who wrote that Tony Blair had, in effect, created “a road map for getting back to the original ‘road map' peace plan” for a two-state solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Mr Blair modestly described the meeting as a chance to put down the foundations for helping the Palestinians to play their part in reaching that solution. He deserves credit for bringing the meeting about in the face of opposition from Israel and only luke-warm support from President Bush. Although Condoleezza Rice attended the meeting she chose to devote much of her speech to America's issue of the moment, Syria.

Israel was the spectre at the feast in the sense that the two-state peace process is just that, a series of confidence-building measures that cannot be effective if both sides are not moving in parallel. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, made this point very clearly when he warned of the danger of separating a political settlement from the kind of administrative and technical measures being discussed at the meeting: “Security is vulnerable to regression and even collapses if it is not protected by a serious political process between us and the Israelis, the delay of which is unjustified.” In other words, the peace process will stall if Israeli concessions are always conditional on action from the Palestinian side. The most obvious instance is the lack of any real evidence that Israel is suspending the construction of new settlements on the West Bank.

Although the 17-page communique of this meeting gave the impression of substantial progress in various areas, the real achievement was that it took place at all and showed the breadth of international commitment to further progress in the coming months.


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