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Middle East Peace Efforts Largely On Hold, Admits US - 2002-11-13

The State Department all but conceded Wednesday that U.S. efforts toward Middle East peace have largely been put on hold until after Israel holds elections in January. This comes a day after the man who wants to become Israel's next prime minister declared he would expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from the West Bank if he achieves his goal of succeeding incumbent prime minister Ariel Sharon.

In Washington, talk about ways to end what have been more than two years of Israeli-Palestinians violence have been drowned out by talk about a possible war with Iraq. This, even though Arab governments have stressed to the Bush Administration that they would rather see Washington work toward securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians than on another possible conflict with Baghdad.

On Wednesday, the State Department acknowledged its effort to put forward what it calls a roadmap for peace has been largely stopped in its tracks because of upcoming Israeli and Palestinian elections. Spokesman Richard Boucher. "I wouldn't exactly call it frozen," said Richard Boucher. "I guess what I would say is domestic developments in both Israel and the Palestinian areas have always influenced the timetable of our efforts."

The roadmap includes steps both sides need to take in order for a Palestinian state to exist peacefully alongside Israel. Repeated trips by senior U.S. envoys to the region have failed to stop a cycle of suicide bombings by Arab militants and Israeli retaliation.

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's Likud party will decide later this month whether he or his newly-appointed foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lead the party into new elections set for January 28. Foreign Minister Netanyahu told a convention of Likud members Tuesday only by expelling Yasser Arafat from his West Bank headquarters will there be an opening for peace, and he vowed that would be his first act if he again became prime minister.

The Bush Administration has warned Israel against any move that would harm the Palestinian leader. But asked about Mr. Netanyahu's comments Wednesday, a White House spokesman chose not to step into what he considered an internal Israeli matter related to the country's upcoming elections.

The outcome of those upcoming elections could be influenced by what happens just days prior - when Palestinians are set to elect a new parliament and decide whether to retain Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian authority.