Author:Darwish, Adel

For a brief time the London talks held out a remote hope something of the floundering peace process could be salvaged. Such hopes have since sunk without trace.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's attempts to get the Middle East peace talks back on track have failed. Fresh from his success on negotiating a deal to bring peace to Northern Ireland, Blair had high hopes of revitalising the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But his hopes were dashed when representatives of all the parties involved left London virtually empty handed.

A cartoon in The Times depicted Mr Blair as a peace dove flying from Ulster grinning from ear to ear, only to crash into the wall of the Middle East: dealing with the Irish was much simpler after all.

Mr Blair's bruises from the London incident were confined to some satirical comments and cartoons as it became clear the British press held Mr Netanyahu wholly responsible for the failure of the summit, where nothing was achieved except an Israeli agreement to plans for a Palestinian airport and seaport in Gaza -- issues on which the European Union and Britain have been particularly active, allowing the Palestinian leader to demonstrate some small, tangible benefits to his frustrated people.

Mr Blair was luckier than President Clinton as the buck was passed back to Washington where the American Jewish lobby has successfully mobilised the Clinton-hating Republican right to undermine the administration's Middle East peace moves.

The London talks were still under way when the Republican majority in the Senate urged Israel to reject the very proposal that the Administration was trying to sell to both sides.

American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright invited Yasser Arafat and Mr Netanyahu to meet the President in Washington, if they could agree on her proposals understood to be Israeli withdrawal from 13.1 per cent of the West Bank, saying "watering [the proposals] down is not in the works." It was a de-facto ultimatum putting Mr Netanyahu on the spot both at home and abroad.

It was Mr Netanyahu who asked Washington to send envoy Dennis Ross on a nonscheduled visit, but the mission faced a dead end. The peace process seemed fixated on percentages. If the security of Israel -- a small place -- would be endangered by handing over 13 per cent of the even smaller West Bank, wouldn't it be in as much danger from the 11 per cent hand-over proposed by Mr Netanyahu? asked Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, "by linking land to security Netanyahu is reaching for a cheap trump card to play for his public."

According to sources close to Mr Ross proposals...

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