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Commentary: Need for the Bush Administration to Step Up Their Plan for an End to the Middle East Conflict

All Things Considered: June 5, 2002

Middle East Diplomacy

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If meaningful political negotiations are to begin again, it will likely be as a result of a big push by the United States. NPR News analyst Daniel Schorr says it's interesting to compare the two superpowers trying to broker two intractable conflicts: the United States trying to push the Israelis and Palestinians towards a peace, and Russia trying to do the same with India and Pakistan.

DANIEL SCHORR:

President Putin, the designated big power hitter in trying to avoid a war in South Asia, struck out in his efforts to bring the Indian and Pakistani leaders together. Prime Minister Vajpayee wants to see security from guerrilla attacks first.

President Bush, the lead player in trying to bring peace to the Middle East, would like to bring Israel and the Palestinians together at an international meeting in Turkey next month. Prime Minister Sharon wants to see security from suicide bombings first.

The Middle East stalemate presents the Bush administration with no nuclear peril like Kashmir, but it does have the potential for a radioactive domestic political situation. Without a concrete plan of his own, the president is caught between Arab pressures for early declaration of a Palestinian state and the resistance of congressional conservatives and evangelicals rallying around the Israeli banner.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, himself seeking to recapture leadership of the Arab world from Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, has publicly announced that he's coming to Washington to lay it on the line, that America must impose on Israel the establishment next year of a Palestinian state; suicide bombings or no, and without waiting to settle borders and other issues. In an unusually sharp allusion to the president's political concerns, Mubarak's spokesman Nabil Osman said, `We are not here to settle your domestic concerns. Our agenda is the Middle East.'

Mr. Bush, who has publicly backed the Sharon position, that violence must first be brought under control, is not likely to buy the Mubarak statehood now plan, but he badly needs a plan of his own to put on the table. And all he has to date, as far as known, is an international meeting on the foreign minister's level, that is without Sharon and Yasser Arafat. Before that meeting, it is thought that the president or Secretary of State Colin Powell may make a major speech defining goals, conditions and a timetable. But that would have to go beyond the Bush and Powell speeches of the past spring articulating the vision of a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.

Mubarak will make his pitch at Camp David this weekend, Sharon will be in the Oval Office on Monday and then the designated superpower hitter will have to take a long swing. This is Daniel Schorr.

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