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U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza
U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have practically simultaneously declared that they continue to believe in the possibility of reaching peace in the Middle East by the end of 2008.

These statements were made on the following day after the Israeli land operation in the Gaza Strip, in which more than 120 Palestinians were killed. How much more will the Palestinians and Israelis have to pay for Washington's hopes to come true?

Bush's expression of hope came at a news conference in Washington after his talks with King of Jordan Abdullah II, and his words could be dismissed as diplomatic politesse. But Rice was visiting the Middle East at the time, and could see for herself what was going on in the region. Rockets were falling on Israel; the Israeli continued their surgical strikes in Gaza despite an earlier troop withdrawal.

What is behind this belief that peace can be established in the next 10 months at a time when it seems that all international, primarily American efforts to return both sides to the negotiating table have ended in failure?

Needless to say, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders maintain that peace is their strategic goal but they are not rushing to make statements on the resumption of the talks. Israel is actively discussing new large-scale actions in Gaza. Head of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Mahmoud Abbas announced on the eve of Rice's visit that he is freezing the negotiations with Israel, started under U.S. aegis in Annapolis at the end of last year.

Meetings of Israeli and Palestinian delegations, some of which were headed by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have resumed in the last few months. They discussed parameters of Palestinian-Israeli settlement. These were the first talks on peace agreement since the fall of 2000. At best, they discussed a truce and ceasefire. Now the situation was reversed more than seven years back.

However, high-ranking U.S. officials are not losing hope. Bush is as optimistic about peace between the two sides as he was several months ago in Annapolis. He emphasized that Mid-Eastern settlement is a complicated process, in which two steps are taken forward, and one step back. Rice also believes this is not an easy task but it can be carried out.

For the U.S. administration, a peace agreement in the Middle East is a matter of principle. It has become part of its strategy on global struggle against terrorism in the wake of 9/11 attacks. This issue is as important as the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Bush simply cannot leave his office without drawing a line under the main project of his whole presidency.

It is no accident that during her trip to the Middle East Rice emphasized that the United States would not allow the opponents of peace to win. This was a clear hint at Hamas, which seized power in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, and at the Iran-led "global terrorist coalition." Washington is blaming Iran for supporting Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel is considering an operation to oust Hamas from the Gaza Strip. There is no doubt that if Israel decides to launch it, it will be approved by the United States because in Washington's opinion, such a step will remove the obstacles on the road to peace.

During her trip, Rice blamed everything that was taking place in the Middle East on Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. In effect, she has given carte blanche to Israel as regards the operation. As for the inevitable victims, all appropriate words will be said just as they were said after the casualties of the Israeli latest operation were counted. Rice has already urged Israel to avoid the deaths of innocent victims in Gaza, but she did not say how this could be done.

The experience of Afghanistan and Iraq show that this is a difficult task for the United States as well. No country in the world knows how to avoid civilian casualties in a battlefield. In the current situation, armed clashes seem inevitable. In fact, Hamas is asking for trouble, and then covering itself up with portraits of mothers mourning their babies.

Do the Islamists have any other option except provocations (rocket fire against Israel)? Hamas is in isolation, and cannot administer Palestinian affairs, that is, perform its duty as a political movement that has legally won the parliamentary elections. Israel and the United States have deprived it of an opportunity to be a fully-fledged participant in the talks as soon as Hamas victory in the 2006 was announced. The cornered Islamists had to take extreme measures - seize Gaza and cancel its truce with Israel.

Now a truce is on the agenda again. According to the latest public opinion polls, published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week, 64% of Israelis stand for dialogue with Hamas with a view to signing a truce agreement. However, this is not in US interests. Nor is a truce likely to help establish peace.

So, there is only one option left - destruction of Hamas in Gaza. Could Washington be counting on this? But what price will Israelis and Palestinians have to pay for this? Wouldn't it escalate tensions even more?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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