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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Bush Far From Neutral Player in Mideast

President Bush has abdicated the United States' role as an honest broker in the Middle East crisis exploding on two fronts, Lebanon and Palestine.

In failing to call for a U.N-sponsored cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel, Bush has lost his credentials as a neutral player.

In the Arab world, he is viewed as a cheerleader for the Israeli side, not a cheerleader for peace.

A newcomer to the problems of the Middle East, Bush told reporters Tuesday that the root cause of Middle East strife was Hezbollah.

Anyone with knowledge of the region knows most of the problems stem from the nearly 60-year-old Palestinian issue.

While the Arab-Israeli problem has festered, the president has been absorbed with the disastrous U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Bush has gone along with the Israelis in isolating the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine, which Israel deprives of its tax revenues.

Furthermore, the Bush administration raised no objection when Israel seized and arrested more than two dozen elected Hamas officials in retaliation for a Palestinian guerrilla attack on an Israeli army base and the kidnapping of two soldiers.

Israel also destroyed the only energy plant in Gaza, leaving thousands of Palestinians without electricity.

Against that background, the current issue is more than two Israeli soldiers getting kidnapped by Hezbollah.

In past Middle East conflicts, the president of the United States has always called for a truce as a first step to end hostilities and start peace talks. And past presidents often have dispatched dispassionate mediators to the area.

But Bush has distinguished himself with a tepid call for "restraint," although he is contemplating sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as an emissary.

The U.S. has been standing by during the bombardment of Lebanon's infrastructure -- commercial airport and ports and highways.

During last weekend's siege of Lebanon, a tearful Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora begged Bush to call for a cease-fire, but to no avail.

No presidential predecessor would have turned down such an appeal. It's no surprise that the terms proposed by the United States to end the current hostilities are the same terms as Israel's.

Meantime, both sides are taking a severe civilian toll.

For Lebanon it's been d�j� vu all over again, reminiscent of the Israeli invasion in 1982.

On the other front, Bush has made a mockery of the U.S. stated intention of spreading democracy in the Middle East. There was a free and democratic election in Palestine and Hamas won, a fact of life that has greatly pained the Bush administration.

It was a victory the U.S. and Israel refused to acknowledge on grounds that the Palestinians did not recognize Israel's right to exist.

It's a two-way street. Israel should recognize the Palestinians' right to exist within their pre-1967 war borders. Then we will see a final peace settlement.

Meantime, Israel is unilaterally defining its borders. It has also built a wall, much on Palestinian land, and expanded its settlements on the West Bank. The Palestinians continue to be subjected to daily humiliations under Israeli occupation.

The Bush administration likes to brag that it has in its hip pocket the authoritarian leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia who also want to rein in the militant Hezbollah.

By failing to intervene and play its traditional role of peacemaker, however, the U.S. has lost the great esteem it once commanded with all the people in the Middle East.

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Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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