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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Mideast: Many plans, little peace
George Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld
The Bush administration is divided over the Mideast

Peace may be in short supply in the Middle East, but there is no shortage of peace plans.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is the latest to produce a set of ideas, which he is sharing with President George W Bush at the presidential retreat, Camp David, this weekend.

The special welcome to Camp David is a calculated diplomatic move, designed to show Mr Mubarak the sort of favoured treatment that Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia received when he met President Bush at his ranch in Texas a few weeks ago.
President Hosni Mubarak
President Mubarak of Egypt will offer his peace plan to President Bush

There is an element here, also, of calculated rivalry between the Arab leaders. By presenting his own plan, President Mubarak is keeping up with the Saudis, whose recent initiative was warmly received by the Americans.

So this is the state of diplomatic play.

President Mubarak is proposing a timetable, leading to the declaration of a Palestinian state next year.

But he accepts that many of the toughest issues would have to be left for decision later: the boundaries of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and the return of Palestinian refugees.

"I think to declare a state just theoretically like this and then to sit and negotiate what would be the borders, what about Jerusalem - I think it may work," Mr Mubarak told the New York Times.

The Saudi peace initiative is almost equally vague. Under Crown Prince Abdullah's plan, the Arab world would offer "normalisation" of relations with Israel, in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, has his own ideas as well. He wants the early declaration of a Palestinian state on the land currently controlled by the Palestinian authority, with negotiations to follow on the final borders and other issues.

Plans are flawed

All the ideas have merits, but all seem fundamentally flawed as well.

The Palestinians are most unlikely to accept Mr Peres' idea for fear that their state would never expand beyond its initial borders. In any case Mr Peres is considered a marginal figure within the Israeli cabinet.

The Saudi proposal for normalisation of relations is a step forward, but still leaves almost everything up for negotiation.
Yasser Arafat
Hardliners in the US administration are deeply sceptical of Yasser Arafat

The Egyptian plan looks the most bizarre. It is difficult to see how a state could be declared, when no one agrees where it is or who are the citizens.

Then there is the position of the two most powerful players in this game, Israel and the United States.

Once again the Bush administration is wracked with division.

The pragmatists at the state department are working on a peace conference to be held some time this summer. They do not want to dismiss out of hand the idea of a timetable for peace.

But on the other side are the hard-line supporters of Israel, Vice President Cheney and Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, who are deeply sceptical of dealing with any Palestinian body led by Yasser Arafat.

President Bush himself has said that after his meetings this weekend with President Mubarak and the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon he will lay out his own ideas.

"I will talk to our country about how I think we should move forward," Mr Bush told reporters.

A senior administration official gave some more details. He said it would be misleading to look for a "Bush plan".
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Resumption of violence would give Ariel Sharon an opening to expel Yasser Arafat

"What we are considering," he explained, "and I would stress that no decisions have been taken at this point, but what we are considering is laying out some ideas, perspective, principles, parameters about how we might move forward to realize the president's two-state vision."

But all of this delicate diplomatic two-step is heavily dependent on events on the ground. More suicide bombings could blow away all of these negotiations.

They would question, once again, Yasser Arafat's ability or commitment to ending violence from the Palestinian side.

Many in Israel believe Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is waiting for just such an opportunity to expel Yasser Arafat from the Palestinian territories. And that would put an end to this current flurry of diplomatic activity.


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07 Jun 02 | Middle East
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