OPTIMISTIC reports about the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians flowed yesterday following the visit to Jerusalem of the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan. It was being said that Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert had drawn up a plan under which Israel would hand over 90 per cent of the land it is illegally occupying and cede parts of Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state. For his part, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was bubbling over with optimism, saying “President Bush is determined to broker a final peace deal in the Middle East before leaving office”, and added, “I heard this with my own ears from the President and Secretary of State Rice.

They want to reach agreement between Israel and Palestine in the next year.” The Israeli press confirmed Mr Abbas's impression, saying that the Palestinians are under intense pressure to strike a deal with Israel before Mr Bush leaves the White House. Having virtually ignored the Israeli-Palestinian problem for almost nine years of his presidency, Mr Bush now wants to settle it the brief time left to him. It's the legacy thing, I suppose. But a deal struck to satisfy Mr Bush's time-table will not be a deal to last. A much more sober assessment came from Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, who questioned what could be achieved “while the settlements, the wall, the denial of movement, the obstacles, the road blocks, are eating up the whole idea of a Palestinian state.”