Leading article: A welcome change of tone from a visiting president

Share
Related Topics

US presidential visits to Israel have not, over the years, been rare occurrences. George Bush is unusual in leaving it until the end of his seventh year in office to meet an Israeli prime minister on his home ground. What is far more rare – Bill Clinton set the precedent nine years ago – is a meeting between a US president and a Palestinian leader on Palestinian territory, in this case Ramallah in the still occupied West Bank. The sight of George Bush, chatting apparently amiably to President Mahmoud Abbas, after 90 minutes or so of formal talks, still has considerable capacity to surprise.

The same goes for the tenor and substance of Mr Bush's remarks in Jerusalem yesterday. Not only did he call on Israel to withdraw from Arab land captured in 1967 – apparently the first time he has said this publicly – but he broached the possibility of compensation payments to Palestinians as part of a solution to the refugee issue. We would hesitate to read too much into this. But could it be that we have here a more realistic and practical approach to the Middle East conundrum than we have yet seen from this US administration?

At very least there seems to be a change of approach. Mr Bush's decision to include the West Bank, along with Israel, in his extensive regional tour was a logical sequel to the Annapolis conference in November. With only a year left in the White House, Mr Bush appears to have looked around for a more positive foreign policy legacy than international resentment and failed wars and alighted – like so many of his predecessors – on the Middle East.

And the prospects for movement may not be as hopeless as they have sometimes seemed. There was a better turn-out at Annapolis than the US organisers had feared, even if the amount of time actually spent conferring was minimal. By going to the Middle East, Mr Bush is honouring his promise to remain personally involved – as, of course, he must, if he is to claim the credit for any success.

So far as the Palestinians are concerned, Mr Bush has shown a growing awareness that a lasting settlement will have to be acceptable not just to their leaders, but to the people. This shift may reflect in part the persuasive efforts of Tony Blair and European leaders. It may also reflect the greater interest now taken in the Palestinian question by Mr Bush's trusted confidante and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Nor should the significance of Yasser Arafat's passing be underestimated. After the failure of Mr Clinton's mediation efforts at Camp David in 2000, and the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, it was nigh impossible for an Israeli leader to re-engage with the Palestinians, let alone for a US President. The election of Mahmoud Abbas signified a break with the past; the growing personal rapport between him and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has improved the atmosphere. Without either of these developments, it is doubtful that Mr Bush's West Bank visit could have taken place.

Even so, it is hard to share Mr Bush's confidence that a peace agreement enshrining the two-state solution can be signed before he leaves office. Although Mr Olmert looks stronger now than at any time since the misguided Lebanon incursion two years ago, leaders throughout the region are weak – too weak, probably, to be able to make a deal stick. More fatally, the Palestinians are divided, with Gaza controlled by Hamas and treated as out of bounds. A Middle East agreement that included only the Palestinians of the West Bank would store up trouble for the future. An agreement must be comprehensive; anything less would not be worthy of the name.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The lesson from the Bulgarian baby debacle is to keep careful notes about potential ‘stings’

Will Gore
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit