James Hider
The Times
March 17, 2008 - 6:39pm

With the Middle East peace process at its lowest ebb since being revived last year, a diplomatic “surge” is to take place in the coming months, culminating in President Bush's return for a second visit to join the May celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

Some Western diplomats fear that failure to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — which has already lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas — could irrevocably strengthen the hand of extremists. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, arrived yesterday. She will be followed this week by Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, and John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate. Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, is expected to make two trips in the coming months, while President Sarkozy of France is scheduled to visit later in the spring. David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, is also expected. International conferences are to be held in London, Berlin, Bethlehem and perhaps Moscow to draw more investment into the Palestinian economy and shore up security.

The next two months are regarded as being a key period in building Palestinian confidence that Israel really is serious about a two-state solution. But the bloodshed of recent weeks, and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, strain the fragile process.


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