Speaking in Israel, US Secretary of State Colin Powell urged immediate action on the latest Middle East peace plan, the internationally endorsed "road map" to peace. Let's not wait a moment longer he implored: "It is time for us to get down to work--starting today." The strains of I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy were very nearly audible as Mr Powell mounted the steps of his aircraft and, with a last smile and a wave, he was off--on a tour of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to win support for the road map which is already backed by the US, the United Nations, and Russia.
Despite the razzmatazz drummed up around the US official's visit, it achieved very little in real terms.
During his trip Mr Powell refused to meet with the elected leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, but agreed to hold talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the Prime Minister. "I have underscored to Prime Minister Sharon and his government the need for Israel to do its part in improving the daily lives of Palestinians", Mr Powell confirmed.
At a joint press conference following their talks, Mr Abbas agreed Palestinians and Israelis must directly and publicly accept the road map. The Palestinian Authority has accepted the conditions of the document, which outlines a three-phase process to Palestinian statehood in 2005. Unfortunately, Mr Powell was unable to persuade the Israelis to do likewise, their government has demanded multiple revisions and insists the Palestinians must abandon the right of return for refugees before it will consider recognising a Palestinian state. However, not wanting to appear completely intransigent, as a gesture of goodwill the Israelis relaxed the closure that had kept towns in the West Bank and Gaza under siege for two months, allowing some Palestinian workers to return to jobs in Israel and easing restrictions on Palestinian fishermen. A day after Mr Powell's departure the decision was reversed when the Israeli military imposed the tightest military closure on the Gaza Strip for years.
The Israeli action was more than a little embarrassing for Colin Powell as his Road Map Road Show rolled into Cairo. He had hoped to use the lifting of restrictions in and out of the Occupied Territories as proof the peace process was moving forward. Small wonder Mr Powell was met with scepticism by Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and his Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, when he announced: "It is going to be difficult. We have to keep pressing forward on...