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Too little, too late?
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US President George W Bush began seeing to the Middle East peace initiative when he did not seem to be occupied.


All of sudden, the region has become the focal point of his administration's foreign policy this year.


He embarked on a Middle East tour yesterday, his last chance to undo the damage his presidency has done to the region.


The visit follows a pledge made at the Annapolis conference in November that he would personally assist negotiations between Israel and Palestine.


Elaborating the foreign policy of the Bush administration in its last year, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said its priority was to maintain the momentum initiated by the conference.


Bush's nine-day tour will take him to Israel, West Bank in Palestine, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.


He became the first US president to accept an independent Palestinian state, claiming on July 24, 2002 that a Middle East solution should entail "two states, living side by side in peace and security".


The peace initiative, however, has given way to other agendas such as the war on terror, Iraq and Iran in the past seven years.


He was aware of the last obstacles that Israelis and Palestinians cannot dodge if they want to be peaceful neighbors. It means that Israel has to withdraw to its safe and recognized border, the status of Jerusalem should be solved, and the refugees from Palestine should be settled.


Will Bush's trip make his vision within reach?


This is his last effort to salvage a legacy from two terms in office overshadowed by a controversial Middle East policy - the death rate in Iraq in the past 12 months has been the second highest in any year since the 2003 US and UK invasion of Iraq, the Taliban activities have again surfaced in Afghanistan, and Iran remains a hard nut to crack for the US.


Bush decided to travel around the Middle East only a few weeks ago. This is a belated decision to step up his personal involvement in the quest for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.


His chances of securing an agreement before he leaves office in January 2009 are very slim because it will be associated with where the Israel-Syria and Israel-Lebanon relations head for. The splitting parties in Palestine do not help. Israel's coalition government cannot make a decision.


Still, the weight of the Israel-Palestine issue is wading while Iran and Pakistan have caught more world attention.


Bush came to office inheriting Bill Clinton's highly active, but ultimately failed, peace initiative.


The world will wait and see whether Bush is luckier than Clinton.


(China Daily January 9, 2008)

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