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Bush's Mideast vision unravels

By GLENN KESSLER Washington Post
Published June 15, 2007


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WASHINGTON - Five years ago this month, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and laid out a vision for the Middle East that included Israel and a state called Palestine living together in peace. "I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror, " the president declared.

The takeover this week of the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, dedicated to the elimination of Israel, demonstrates how much that vision has failed to materialize, in part because of actions taken by the administration.

The United States championed Israel's departure from the Gaza Strip as a first step toward peace and then pressed both Israelis and Palestinians to schedule legislative elections that Hamas unexpectedly won. Now, Hamas is the unchallenged power in Gaza.

After his re-election in 2004, Bush said he would use his "political capital" to help create a Palestinian state by the end of his second term. In his final 18 months as president, he faces the prospect of a shattered Palestinian Authority, a radical Islamic state on Israel's border and increasingly dwindling options to turn the tide against Hamas and create a functioning Palestinian state.

"The two-state vision is dead, " said Edward Abington Jr., a former State Department official who was once an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, whose bouts of vacillation have irritated U.S. officials, dissolved the Palestinian government Thursday in response to Hamas' takeover of Gaza. U.S. officials signaled that they will move quickly to convince an international peace monitoring group - known as the Quartet - to lift aid restrictions on the Palestinian government, allowing direct aid to flow to the West Bank-based emergency government that Abbas will lead.

The evolving U.S. strategy would let the Hamas-run Gaza Strip fend for itself while attempting to bolster Abbas as a moderate leader who can actually govern and deliver peace with Israel.

[Last modified June 15, 2007, 01:26:15]


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