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Hopes fade of Middle East peace deal before Bush leaves office

 Hopes fade of Middle East peace deal before Bush leaves office
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The prospect of a Middle East peace deal before the end of the Bush mandate looks increasingly remote.

The Palestinian people, for one thing, remain deeply divided. Some support secular Fatah and others back Islamist Hamas. It runs Gaza, where Israeli sanctions have hit hard. Israel says it is acting to curtail rocket fire from the Strip.

Jewish settlement expansion plans have created another obstacle and then there is the police probe into Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s finances. Analysts say it is harder to think of a less favourable moment for peace.

It was always going to be difficult to make up for lost time. It was only in January that President Bush made his first visit to the region since becoming US President. His predecessor Bill Clinton had famously made sustained efforts to achieve a Middle East deal.

The Annapolis Conference last November had revived hopes of a breakthrough. But optimism surrounding Israeli and Palestinian pledges to seek an end to their conflict, creating a Palestinian state, was to be short-lived as the problems piled up.

Faced with the impasse, the US may have hoped to look to Lebanon and its Western-backed government for signs of success in the region. But there, too, turmoil has the upper hand. Bush has backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, urging the Arab world to give him greater support.

Excluding groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas from peace efforts has failed to bear fruit. It has also raised questions about whether a solution can be found without the involvement of elements Washington would rather not have to deal with.

Unless a Middle East miracle can produce a peace deal by January, the chaos of the war in Iraq looks like being President Bush’s legacy in the region.