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Build on Bush's Middle East progress

Despite Bush's early mistakes, Obama's team can keep valuable momentum there.

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George W. Bush made his greatest Middle East mistake before becoming president. Had he embraced rather than disowned Bill Clinton's desperate efforts to secure an agreement, Israeli and Palestinian leaders might have gone the extra mile to accommodate the new administration. The tragedy of the second intifada might have been averted. The seizure of Gaza by Hamas might never have occurred.

Now the US quest for peace has been placed in the hands of diplomat George Mitchell, a veteran of the Clinton period. If he dismisses the work of Bush as he did theirs, the result will probably be failure. Significant steps to move toward a settlement could languish and opportunities to achieve a breakthrough could be ignored.

If Mr. Mitchell can learn from Bush's mistake and embrace the positive aspects that came from his administration, he could save himself many redundant steps on the road to peace. If full-dress negotiations do produce accord, the key would then be "shelving" agreement until the Palestinian Authority (PA) reestablishes sufficient control to implement it.

Bush did pave the way for his successors on some fronts. He declared Yasser Arafat "tainted by terror," opening the way for the more moderate Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen) to play the lead negotiating role.

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