The latest cycle of suicide bombings and Israeli missile and helicopter gunship counterstrikes on Palestinian targets was unwittingly unleashed by the US, Middle East experts suggested yesterday. The analysts even pinpointed a date - November 19 - and named names - Secretary of State Colin Powell directly and President George W. Bush by association - when apportioning blame. They claim Mr Powell lit a powder keg which has resulted in dozens of deaths with a speech that day at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, when he historically spoke of a Palestinian state in outlining a shift in US policy. 'Israel must be willing to end its occupation,' he said, referring to the land Israel seized from Arabs in the 1967 Middle East war. The speech launched the Bush administration's first foray into Middle East peace negotiations. Two envoys - William Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, and retired Marine Corps general Anthony Zinni - were sent to the region. Their work has been sidelined by the spate of suicide bombings in Israel and the Israeli counterattacks. Until November 19, the US had never used such language and backed a Palestinian state, a view opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It is also opposed by hardliners in the Palestinian territories - among them groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad - whose struggle with Israel is for the return of all territory taken from the Arabs. Former Australian diplomat Douglas Sturkey echoed general agreement among academics that Mr Powell's comments paradoxically had Hamas and Mr Sharon sharing the same view. Mr Sturkey, formerly an ambassador to the Gulf region and now a research scholar with the Australian National University's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies in Canberra, said: 'There is a strange commonality of interest - even though the two sides are [ideologically] miles apart - of people trying to frustrate the peace process.' Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is at odds with Hamas and is prepared to settle for East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The concept of a limited Palestinian state within 95 per cent of the occupied territories was last year brokered by former US president Bill Clinton, adopted by then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and agreed to by Mr Arafat on January 3. But Israel rejected other demands, such as the right of return of refugees. Two weeks later Mr Clinton left office and Mr Barak later lost his job in elections to Mr Sharon, pulling apart any progress that had been made in peace talks. 'From then until last month, there were no talks and the irredentists were reasonably satisfied nothing was going to move forward,' Mr Sturkey said. 'But on November 19, the Bush administration came out with a new, clear policy that there should be a Palestinian state in the West Bank. They obviously thought: 'No, this is not what we [Palestinian extremists] want, we'll do something that will wreck the process'.'