Analysis: Mid-East conference hopes (BBC) By Paul Reynolds BBC News Online world affairs correspondent 12/17/02 14:01 GMT)
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A Middle East conference called by the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair,
in London in January is at best a modest effort to make progress on
a "road map" now being drawn up for the Middle East.
It is a long way short of the peace conference envisaged by Mr Blair
before the end of the year at the Labour Party conference in October.
That proved, as many thought at the time, to be impossibly ambitious.
The meeting also represents a diplomatic defensive effort by Britain
to develop closer links with the Arab world at a time when Britain is
preparing for possible war against Iraq.
Mr Blair´s meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in London
can also be seen in that light.
´Same old figures´
Britain is keen that Arab governments see some differences between
London and Washington.
The conference will discuss reform of Palestinian institutions and
Yasser Arafat, who was not invited himself, has agreed to send a
The fact that Mr Arafat has not been invited reflects the reality of
his position - Israel would either not let him go or not let him
But it also hints at one of the underlying themes - that Palestinian
reform should look towards a day when Mr Arafat is not Palestinian
The problem with that approach is that the Palestinians themselves
might well decide to keep Mr Arafat as their leader.
And with him in charge on the Palestinian side and with the Israeli
Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, likely to win the elections on 28
January, the prospect is one of the same old figures with the same
old policies leading to the same old problems.
Sceptics argue that a middle ranking conference about Palestinian
reform is one more talking shop which will simply emphasise the
problems and not provide the solutions.
The counter view is that sooner or later, though probably later if at
all, the two sides will reach exhaustion and will seek a solution,
the outlines of which have been apparent for years - land for peace.
If that is so, then the road to peace must always be kept open.
The "road map" is supposed to offer a way through.
It is being drawn up by the so-called Quartet - the US, the EU,
Russia and the UN.
Foreign ministers are meeting in Washington on 20 December to discuss
how far the mapping has progressed and whether they should publish it
before the Israeli elections.
The map is expected to lay down a procedure under which Israelis and
Palestinians meet certain reciprocal commitments leading to security
for Israel on the one side and a state for the Palestinians on the
other by 2005.
Diplomats say that it might not demand a total end to Palestinians
violence before the process starts, as that would be unrealistic.
But it would demand an end to violence by the time the process
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