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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Analysis: Bush holds out distant hope
Israeli soldiers on patrol near Bethlehem
The US says security must precede a Palestinian state

Is George Bush the voice of Ariel Sharon? Many Palestinians will think so after his speech in which the US president called for "new leaders" before the United States would support a Palestinian state.

The president was in effect urging the removal of Yasser Arafat, the man who for generations of Palestinians has represented the hopes of a state and yet who is now supposed to step down with that state finally in view.

For months Mr Bush has denigrated the Palestinian Authority chairman, the man the Palestinians elected and call their president.

There is sweetness in the American pill...but it is wrapped in bitterness

Now he has said that his people have no future with him. And Israelis subject to sudden and savage suicide attacks will waste no time in sympathy for him.

Long negotiation

There is sweetness in the American pill for the Palestinians - Palestine. But it is wrapped in bitterness.

And a state of Palestine is only a distant prospect. Mr Bush did not promise one, as Britain once promised the Jews a "national home "in the Holy Land. So even if reform takes place, and new leaders are elected, a long negotiation remains with no certainty at the end.

Mr Bush did say that a settlement should be on the basis of the UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel to withdraw from "territories" occupied in the war of 1967.

Palestinian Authroity chariman Yasser Arafat
President Bush has called for a new Palestinian leader
But he did not promise the Palestinians a capital in Jerusalem, a solution for their refugee problem, or the removal of Israeli settlements. Those would have to be won in the eventual talks.

Mr Bush has accepted the argument that security (and now democracy as well) must precede a state, not the argument that the establishment of a state would lead to security and democracy, even though the Oslo agreement was based on the same gradualism - and it has failed.

Bush's thinking

The president's policy is partly the result of his own thinking since 11 September - the war on terrorism has far flung battle lines and, in his view, they include the Middle East.

Mr Arafat, he has concluded, has not joined the ranks in those lines and has ruled himself out of the rewards which will be given to those who have.

Palestinians might spit out the bitter coating

His arguments have been bolstered by secret Israeli briefings which they say have tied Yasser Arafat to terrorist actions. Post 11 September, it is a powerful argument to deploy with George Bush and there are few in Washington to counter them.

And in the first instance, Palestinians would have only a "provisional state", a vague concept subject to change. Logic would indicate that this is not a good deal for the Palestinians.

Palestinian hopes

And yet - the Middle East does not always work on strict logic. The Palestinians might spit out the bitter coating and savour the sweet centre instead.

President George W Bush
An American president goes on record as favouring a Palestinian state
An American president, they might conclude with some satisfaction, is finally on record as favouring a Palestinian state.

They will recall that an Israeli prime minister once disputed that there was a "Palestinian people" at all. It is an argument still heard in the Israeli settlements across the West Bank and Gaza. Now even George Bush has used the name of Palestine.

The American plan is not a blueprint for immediate action. The US Secretary of State Colin Powell is not even going to the region to try to sell it. It is hard to see how any American negotiator can now go to Ramallah, sit down with Yasser Arafat and tell him that his time is up.

And what happens if, in the elections which Mr Bush has said should take place, Yasser Arafat is re-elected?

Distant vision

Mr Bush says he hopes for an agreement on a state of Palestine in three years. As things stand, that is an impossible dream.

There have been so many similar moments of "vision" before - the Begin-Sadat agreement led to a White House handshake and peace between Israel and Egypt but to nothing for the Palestinians; another White House lawn handshake between Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin also led nowhere.

Realism indicates that the conflict will go on. The Americans have planted a Palestinian flag on a hillside, but it is far away.

It might be reached one day and if it is, then the Bush speech will be an important marker in Middle East history. But a Promised Land for the children of Palestine is not inevitable.

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