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Commentary: Recent Suicide Bombings in Israel Cause President Bush to Postpone his Plans to Play a More Direct Role in the Mideast Peace Process

All Things Considered: June 19, 2002

U.S. Mideast Policy

DANIEL SCHORR:

Speak of pre-emption. President Bush's long-pondered peace initiative has been effectively pre-empted by Israel's reaction to the 70th and one of the deadliest attacks of the 21-month-old intifada, and today, number 71.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR News analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: To maintain his credentials in the Arab world, the president was preparing to propose some form of provisional Palestinian statehood behind loosely defined frontiers on about 40 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. Some timetable would be set down to achieve final statehood, but hedged with requirements for reform of the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Sharon, in Washington last week, did not reject statehood out of hand, but said that conditions were not ripe given these suicide bombings and an unreliable Yasser Arafat regime. The Bush administration thought it saw some wiggle room, and was preparing to roll out the president's proposal.

But overnight, the situation changed on the ground. Sharon moved to recapture the territory originally occupied in the 1967 war, thus discarding the last of the Oslo agreement that transferred territory incrementally to the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, Israeli forces accelerated the building of a wall to fence in portions of the West Bank, thus creating a de facto border. What that means is that Sharon intends to decide for himself what constitutes secure borders as defined in United Nations resolutions. He clearly has no intention of returning to pre-1967 borders. He, thus, in effect, rejects the premise of the Arab summit plan to exchange normalization of relations with the Arab region for a return to 1967 borders.

Given the emotional climate in Israel, Mr. Bush could hardly do otherwise then to say through his spokesman that Israel has a right to defend itself. But the organizers of the Jerusalem bus bombings can congratulate themselves on having probably derailed the American peace initiative. President Bush, having invested a lot of time and effort in this peace plan, is reluctant to give it up, especially in response to an act of terrorism. But under present conditions, he has no option but to put it on hold. This is Daniel Schorr.

HANSEN: To read transcripts and hear audio of NPR's complete Middle East coverage, go to our Web site, npr.org.

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