Bush may be Backing Away from Road Map
By Guy Dinmore
September 06, 2003

Colin Powell, US secretary of state, reiterated this week that the US remained "fully engaged" in efforts to pursue the diplomatic "road map" for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

But against a background of resumed Palestinian suicide bombings and Israel's "targeted killings", some officials say the White House is stepping back from the process.

President George W. Bush is unlikely, they say, to take the risk of pursuing a strong personal commitment as he embarks on the 2004 presidential election campaign. Indeed, one official said this week that the president's personal involvement was already over.

Mr Bush can point to the Middle East summits he held in June and his meetings in late July in Washington with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

"You have not seen any recent phone calls," the official said. "This is not the time to take on the Jewish lobby," he added, referring to next year's election.

In her last big statement on the issue on August 25, Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, said a week after a devastating suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem that Mr Bush remained committed to the course he laid out at the Red Sea summits. But she prefaced her remarks with the demand that Palestinian "terrorist networks" be dismantled.

Inter-agency foreign policy disputes have also handicapped the US effort. Officials said Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, was resisting a request by Ms Rice to go to Israel soon.

The Bush administration is clearly assigning blame for collapse of the tentative peace moves to the Palestinians, and in particular Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president.

Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman, said the US was still working with both sides on a variety of issues, adding ". . . I think we've left the emphasis right now where it belongs, which is on the Palestinians taking control of their security situation, moving against the terrorist groups".

Martin Indyk, Brookings Institution analyst and former US ambassador to Israel, now agrees with Mr Arafat that the road map is "dead". Mr Bush, he said, was tied up with Iraq and was "walking away" from the process.

Mr Indyk said Mr Abbas lacked the capacity to deal with militant groups, and first needed Israeli steps, such as troop withdrawals and prisoner releases, to give him the popular support he needed to take action. But Israel wanted the crackdown first.

"It was a vicious circle the US failed to break," he said. "It's been hard to fathom what we've been doing over the past couple of months."

Source: Financial Times