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Palestinians' Empty Piñata

Does the big Bush plan for the Palestinians sound complex? It is. The plan has to be that way to hide the fact that it lacks a simple deadline for a clear goal: creation of a Palestinian state.

President Bush caved in to Israel's right wing – during this critical election year for control of the US Congress – and rejected the idea of a firm American promise to create such a state by a set time. Without that, Palestinians aren't left with much hope of a future homeland.

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Instead, Mr. Bush offers just big money and lots of other development aid if the Palestinians jump through these tiny hoops:

1) Somehow oust their fairly elected leader, Yasser Arafat, and his close associates;

2) Demand incorruptible leaders (who, it is hoped, won't take big campaign donations for big favors, as in the US);

3) And (here's the complex part) somehow hold an election with Israeli tanks in the streets and choose leaders who somehow won't seem like US lackeys and who somehow will run the first real Arab democracy while suppressing a sizable portion of the population that actively supports suicide bombings against occupying Israeli soldiers and Israeli civilians.

And so politics trumps policy, with more US demands for reform and only a vague US notion of a state to come. Meanwhile, Jewish settlements spread on the West Bank, with Bush unlikely to stop them.

Let's hope Bush is just waiting until after the fall congressional elections to set that deadline. Without giving Palestinians that hope, he only risks escalating anti-US feeling among Muslims that will fuel Al Qaeda.

Fighting terrorism takes bolder steps than this plan, ones that require taking bigger political risks.