During his latest tour in the Middle East, US President George W. Bush promised his "moderate" Arab allies that a peace treaty between the Israelis and Palestinians will be concluded before the end of his tenure early next year. The Palestinian National Authority alongside other Arab countries applauded Bush's belated dip into Middle East peacemaking as a rare chance to end a conflict that is legitimising Islamist militancy and boosting the role of Iran and its allies across the region. Satisfaction was expressed with Bush's personal commitment to set up a viable Palestinian state within 1967 borders by the end of this year. Many were also pleased to hear him calling for an "end to the occupation" - the first US President to publicly say so.
Beneath the surface runs deep scepticism, however, as Washington continues to send mixed messages about its declared vision for a two state solution. Day by day, the US Arab allies, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular, who have invested heavily in peace, see a president who is completely on Israel's side and seeking to drive a wedge between the Arabs and Iran over its nuclear programme for the benefit of Israel.
As time passes by, Arab worry is growing over the US president's ability and willingness to impose a clear framework for a permanent solution in line with the terms of UN resolutions 194, 242 and 338, as well as the Arab Peace Plan, proposed by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia in the 2002 Beirut Arab summit. The first resolution calls for the right of return and compensation to all refugees, and the latter deals with the return of Arab lands occupied by Israel in 1967 in exchange for peace and normalisation with the Arabs.
Many doubt Bush is going to invest sufficient political capital to consummate a balanced and equitable final settlement that meets the national aspirations of the Palestinians: chiefly statehood and refugees.
Bush's latest regional tour left his Arab allies totally exposed and compromised by his newly pronounced views on the shape and form under which final status issues would be resolved, especially refugees and colonies. They took issue with his stress on the Jewish nature of Israel, his mention of compensation, but not return for Palestinian refugees, and his acceptance that any future Palestinian state should take into consideration the "facts on the ground". By saying so, Bush is effectively endorsing the legality of colonies on lands occupied in 1967 and claimed as part of a Palestinian state.
In fact, these concepts were seen as a "re-packaging" of the controversial letter of guarantees which Bush sent to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 embracing the notion that "facts on the ground created unilaterally by Israel are recognised by Washington" - in contravention with international legitimacy.
The negative impressions left by Bush's trip did not improve when Israel launched a massive attack against Gaza aimed at stopping rockets being fired on Israeli villages. It furthermore imposed a blockade on the tiny coastal strip that was taken over by Hamas last summer, exposing the moderate PNA of President Mahmoud Abbas, which is running the West Bank.
The siege and the ensuing death of more than 130 Palestinians in Israeli raids embarrassed moderate Arab leaders who could do absolutely nothing to stop Israeli massacre against unarmed Palestinians. To add insult to injury, the Bush administration publicly supported the Israeli aggression against the besieged strip.
Arab leaders are concerned that the latest round of violence is tilting the balance in favour of Iran. They also believe that president Bush is more concerned with Iran, than with seeing a Palestinian state. He is only serving the interests and survival of Israel at the expense of his Arab allies, who are being de-legitimised by sceptical and cynical populations.
Dr Marwan Kabalan is a lecturer in Media and International Relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Damascus, Syria.