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Bush constructing legacy as peacemaker

  • 29 January 2008

For Israel and the Palestinians, 2008 is shaping up as yet another crucial year. US President George W. Bush, who history will remember for his propensity to make war, has made international headlines with his determination to make peace. In the tradition of administrations past, Bush is facing the reality of a tattered legacy, and the temptation to 'solve' the complex Palestinian-Israeli conflict has proven irresistible.

The international community cautiously welcomed Washington's re-engagement. In East Jerusalem, claims of an impending peace deal received a more tempered response. In the communities of the West Bank, the much-hyped visit of the leader of the free world made little difference to a daily life which continues to be defined by road-blocks, checkpoints and the separation wall. In the Gaza Strip, the peace process remains irrelevant.

When the Bush entourage arrived in Jerusalem, sealing off streets, taking over hotels and closing businesses, there was scant popular Palestinian support. Indeed, the situation was met with barely concealed humour. This disintegrated into disbelief and anger as the saturation media coverage of the revived peace-process gave way to images of despair from Gaza.

Israel stepped up its military strikes and placed Gaza's civilian population under siege. This policy aims to pressure the Hamas leadership into containing the militants who fire Kassam rockets at Israeli towns and territory. National security is a legitimate right of all states, yet the principle of proportionality is also enshrined in the international system. Israel's blockade constitutes collective punishment against a civilian population, an action which is illegal under international law.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's assertions that a humanitarian disaster would be avoided were belied by the sewerage which ran through the streets of Gaza and the images of desperate Palestinians storming the Egyptian border in search of food and fuel. By creating this situation, Israel has intensified its own security dilemmas and potentially those of its neighbouring state.

Yet since the takeover by Hamas, the political and physical isolation of Gaza by both Israel and the United States has become expected. Therefore, the real test for Bush's peace-making penchant is in the PA-led West Bank.

Despite recent events, the Annapolis process will continue, as the major players have much to gain from signatures on a peace accord.

The outgoing US President, who presided over a period of destruction in the Middle East, now seeks to claim the mantle of peace-maker.

In Tel Aviv, Olmert is