maybe stupidity will work (snooker)

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    President Bush is said not to have a strong grasp of detail on the Middle East. Instead, he has a new strategy: naivety. Stride to peace, or a footnote in history?

    Chris McGreal in Aqaba, Brian Whitaker and Ewen Macaskill
    Wednesday June 4, 2003
    The Guardian

    President Bush meets the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in Jordan today for a summit that history books will either record as starting the final journey to Middle East peace or not bother to mention.
    In today's talks Mr Bush will test Israel's commitment to the US-led road map by pressing the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to agree a specific timetable for Palestinian independence, according to American diplomatic sources.

    The summit - with Mr Bush, Mr Sharon, and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas - in the port city of Aqaba is seen by both sides as a critical test of how far the White House is prepared to put pressure on the Israelis, in particular, to adhere to the peace process.

    "We are looking for very specific commitments from both sides," said a US official. "The Palestinians know what they have to do in fighting terror and we now think Abbas is serious about doing it. We hope and believe Sharon is also serious but the president will be looking for some firm commitments to a timetable of actions and to the end result which he has said has to be a viable Palestinian state."

    The Palestinian uprisising, which began in September 2000, has so far claimed the lives of about 2,250 Palestinians and 760 Israelis.

    Preparing the ground for today's summit, Mr Bush met moderate Arab leaders yesterday in Egypt. They are hoping that, in spite of their instinctive pessimism, Mr Bush will be even-handed in his treatment of Israel and the Palestinians.

    The Arab leaders received some encouragement when he told them that the round of talks was a "moment of promise".

    Mr Bush said: "Israel has got responsibilities. Israel must deal with the settlements. Israel must make sure there is a continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home."

    The continued building of Jewish homes in the occupied Palestinian territories is one of the major obstacles to a renewed peace process.

    Signs have emerged in Washington in recent days that Mr Bush has a strategy for the Middle East, albeit an unorthodox one - naivety. Old hands in the diplomatic service, say the President knows almost nothing about the intricacies of the conflict. Nor does he show any sign of wanting to learn. In their view, Mr Bush has stumbled into one of the world's most intractable problems in a superficial way which holds out little hope of success.

    But snatches of presidential conversation that creep into the American media suggest Mr Bush sees naivete as an advantage that will allow him to cut through the bickering to core issues.

    While Mr Sharon quibbles over dismantling new Jewish settlements and Israeli negotiators relish the thought of interminable arguments about what, precisely, constitutes "settlement activity", and similar details, Mr Bush is either not interested or determined to stay out of such squabbles.

    The Israelis are simply wasting their money, he reportedly told aides, because ultimately those new settlements will become homes for Palestinians.

    The president's famous description of Mr Sharon as a man of peace infuriated Arabs at the time but may yet return to haunt the Israeli prime minister by setting a yardstick for him to measure up to.

    During a private meeting recounted yesterday by the Washington Post, Mr Sharon told the president he was a "man of peace and security", to which Mr Bush replied: "I know you are a man of security ... I want you to work harder on the peace part." Then, according to the newspaper, Mr Bush added: "I said you were a man of peace. I want you to know I took immense crap for that."
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