President Bush's performance at his press conference in the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday revealed to the world the shallowness of his thinking and the partisanship of his approach on the issue of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the establishment of a two state solution. It also showed how desperate he is to get signatures on a piece of paper by the time he leaves office in one year from now, regardless of the unfinished business he will leave behind for future generations to deal with.
The most distressing and revealing statement from Mr Bush came when he was asked whether he would hold Israel to the many United Nations resolutions critical of its presence in occupied territory; he replied that the choice was whether to remain stuck in the past, or to move on, a clear indication that he has no intention whatsoever of overseeing a settlement on borders in line with international resolutions. Yet the peace solution road map for a Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict of April 30 2003, which Mr Bush himself brought back to the centre of negotiations at the Annapolis Conference only last November, refers specifically under Phase III to a final settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. These Resolutions are indeed stuck in the past because of American and Israeli opposition to them but that does not mean they can be ignored so that the world can move on to an imperfect settlement rushed through to satisfy an incompetent President's desire to achieve something -- anything -- positive in his eight years of office. Incidentally, I downloaded the text of the 2003 road map to refresh my memory on this point. I can recommend the text's nine pages to anyone interested in reminding themselves of the huge number of tasks that have to be performed by both sides before Phase III and the permanent Settlement stage is reached, The original road map time-table envisioned completion by 2004-05; the fact that Mr Bush thinks a task that has not been completed in four years can be finished in twelve months shows how little interest he has in satisfying the conditions set out in the road map. What he wants, in my judgement, is an agreement that suits Israel and that the weak Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will be ready to accept under pressure. But, of course, Abbas cannot speak for Gaza which he does not control and which Mr Bush probably thinks, wrongly, is another issue stuck in the past. I have acused President Bush of partisanship in these negotiations. At the lavish arrival ceremony arranged for him on Wednesday he described Israel as the United States' strongest and most trusted ally. I am sure Tony Blair will have read that statement with interest. Even after allowing for the flattery of diplomatic language and the need to respond warmly to one's hosts, are we to take Mr Bush's language at face value? Never mind what it means for Britain's idea that it enjoys a special relationship with the US, what message does it convey to those Arab states whose co-operation Mr Bush will be seeking as he travels round the Middle East in the next few days?