Bush started his final year in the White House with a big tour to the Middle East that is of great strategic importance for the USA. Besides Israel and Palestine, the tour schedule includes visits to Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Prior to his departure, George Bush addressed his citizens and world community to explain the importance of the Middle East trip, and said: "At its core, the battle unfolding in the Middle East is more than a clash of arms. It is an ideological struggle. On one side are the forces of terror and death. On the other are tens of millions of ordinary people who want a free and peaceful life for their children. The future of the Middle East depends on the outcome of this struggle, and so does the security of the United States”.
Bush started his trip with the visit to the Holy Land – to Israel and territory under the control of the Palestinian National Administration (PNA). It is his fist visit to this area as the US President. Previously, he visited Israel only once in 1998 as the governor of Texas.
The aforesaid first stop-point en-route is quite explainable and logic – Israel is a main ally of the USA in the Middle East, and the problem of Palestinian-Israeli conciliation is considered lately as one of the focus points in the foreign policy of the Bush’s Administration. Moreover, last year after 7 years of a slack period, a kind of breakthrough in restoration of the Palestinian-Israeli talks was achieved under the aegis of the USA at the international conference in Annapolis.
Many political analysts believe that it is the support of the negotiation process boosted in Annapolis that is a key goal of the Middle East trip of the US President. However, according to the same analysis, neither the current head of the White House nor his Secretary of State Candoleezza Rice promised any notable breakthrough in the solution of the Palestinian problem during the January Middle East trip.
Yet, just on the eve of the Bush’s arrival to the region the leaders of Israel and Palestine agreed to start direct talks on the critical problems including the borders of the future Palestinian State, status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements on the West bank of the Jordan River and future of the Palestinian refugees. However, the prospects of radical progress in these talks seem rather doubtful to local observers.
The most severe disputes are provoked by the plans of Israel to build residential quarters in the occupied territories of the West bank and in the eastern part of Jerusalem. In so doing, a stumbling block here is not even the construction of new Jewish settlements but legality of already existing ones. In Israel this trend is called “a natural growth” but the Palestinians consider it as “consolidation of occupation”.
Against this background such problems as rocket fire on the Israeli territory by combatants of HAMAS (a rocket attack took place even on the day of Bush’s arrival to Jerusalem) and reprisals of the Israeli Army, location of illegal Israeli outposts on the West bank, etc. seem even more painful and non remediable. And all this happens apart from such long-standing and painful problems as the return of Palestinian refugees expelled as far back as 1948 and status of Jerusalem. George Bush will hardly succeed in settlement of all these problems during the remaining time in the White House. Naturally, many Israelis and Palestinians are very skeptic in their judgments of the latest peace-making “labor” of George Bush.
According to a common opinion of analysts, the second keynote idea of the Bush’s trip is a problem of Iran. The discussion of possible joint measures of response to “the aggressive ambitions” of Iran that in the opinion of Washington poses the greatest threat to the whole Middle East was undoubtedly a priority item of the agenda during the talks of George Bush with the leaders of the Middle East countries. In this connection it is logical that President of Israel Shimon Peres in his address urged Bush “to stop desperate actions” of Iran, and to harden the US policy with respect to radical pro-Iranian groups HAMAS and Hezbollah. Peres also admonished Iran of “undervaluation of our determination to self-defense”.
It is well-known that the US President trip to the region was preceded by a naval incident in the Strait of Hormuz. Washington blamed Iran for “a deliberate provocation” after Iranian boats approached warships of the US Navy and allegedly threaten with an attack. The incident nearly led to an armed conflict between the USA and Iran, possibility of which is extensively discussed during almost the entire period of the Bush presidency in the White House.
According to certain analysis, the US President trip to the Middle East, a stronghold of anti-American sentiments, hardly promoted stability in this unquiet region. In addition to the incident in the Strait of Hormuz the Bush’s trip coincided with an attack on UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, fire by Palestinian combatants on the territory of Israel and reprisal raids of the Israel Army in the Gaza Strip.
By the way, the entire US policy of the recent years in the Middle East that is based on simplified, “black-and-white”, forceful and linear approaches to the solution of the most complicated local conflicts and contradictions only exacerbates the situation in the region that is not simple in any case.
This policy aimed at unconditional support of Israel and virtual incitement of communal hatred between different Palestinian and Lebanese groups, Sunnites and Shiites, as well as attempts to counter the Arab countries with Iran will result in a deeper split and escalation of tension in the Islamic world. In turn, it encourages further exacerbation of situation in a large region, the Middle East and Gulf Area, that is fraught with grave consequences for the global security.