Upon taking office seven years ago President Bush insisted he would avoid the mistakes of his predecessor and stay out of the quagmire of Israel-Palestine peacemaking. The only exception to his commitment was to overrule Abbas and Olmert and insist on democratic elections for Palestine just over a year ago. Now, with just over one more year to the end of his presidency, Condoleezza Rice travels to Middle East capitals apparently intent on achieving in months what her predecessors failed to achieve in years. What are the chances of her succeeding, and what the cost of failure?
The headlines in Israel’s press in the run-up to the November summit provide interesting commentary on the anticipated outcome. Take, for example, “Annapolis, here we come - or, at least, here we go again,” or; “(Public Security Minister Avi) Dichter is ‘pessimistic’ ahead of parley.” Then there are the misgivings about the Secretary of State and her mission: “Can Condi 2007 trump Baker 1991” (not likely, according to the commentator) and, as if in response; “(former chief US Middle East negotiator Dennis) Ross to Rice: Let's hope you know when to back off” (why would Ross even ask such a question?).
How do America’s long-time allies in the Arab world view the peace “initiative?” Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all sitting on their hands, unwilling to lend support to what they see as a likely diplomatic failure. And insult to injury, they appear unconcerned at possible repercussions for their defiance of Bush.
Then there is Condi’s decision not to invite Syria, the most likely spoiler in the unlikely event of a diplomatic “breakthrough.” The American rebuff is intended to signal the administration’s displeasure with the actions of the Assad Government. But, then, what is the purpose of summitry if not to bring adversaries to the negotiating table? Or is this “summit” meant merely as a public relations event, a farewell photo-op for President Bush and friends?
In fact President Bush has nothing by way of success, and much failure, to show for past Middle East “diplomacy.” For example, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These achieved only social chaos and political instability for the countries overrun. But among the unanticipated consequences, Bush removed two natural enemies of Iran, thereby freeing up and paving the way for the Islamic Republic to pursue its hegemonic ambitions in the region. As a result Iran today threatens the US-protected oil producers across the Gulf as well as the shipping lanes which carry their product to an oil-dependent world economy. And again, due to Bush strategic inadvertence, Iran now challenges the US in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza; Ahmadinejad shrugs off Bush threats regarding his country’s nuclear ambitions.
A second example of failure of diplomatic foresight is the Bush-inspired Palestinian elections. Just over one year ago Bush insisted that Abbas and Olmert carry through with “full and free” elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Ignoring the warnings of the two leaders that elections would only achieve a Hamas victory, Bush overruled them. Apparently surprised at the Hamas victory, Bush belatedly remembered that Hamas is on his list of “terrorist organizations” and cut off communication and aid to his creation, the democratically elected government of Palestine. Just one year later Hamas was confident enough to challenge and evict the Fateh, numerically twice as strong, from Gaza.
With this as background, the hesitancy of all parties regarding Bush Administration intentions and capabilities is reasonable and justified. That Dennis Ross, veteran American Middle East diplomat and negotiator felt it necessary to publicly question Condoleezza Rice’s ability to even be aware of when to “back off” goes a long way in validating the pessimism, the fears of disaster this latest adventure in diplomacy by the Bush Administration inspires.
But Bush-Rice competence and motives aside, what chance what remains of Palestine and its present leadership could deliver should the summit confound the experts and achieve a breakthrough?
Since the death of Arafat and his accession to the presidency Mahmud Abbas has repeatedly promised to reign in terrorism, reform Fateh and end corruption in the PA as pre-condition to peace with Israel and statehood for the Palestinians. Unable to deliver on any of the above even when Palestine was more unified geographically and politically, while Hamas but one among several armed rejectionist groups, what possibility today, with Abbas a virtual powerless prisoner in Ramallah, that he can credibly negotiate, to say nothing of deliver on peace “on behalf of the Palestinian people?”
As the headlines above suggest, as the fence-sitters and nay-sayers Jewish and Arab clearly recognize, negotiations between Abbas and Olmert are destined for still-birth. Even were Bush and Rice strong leaders with a successful diplomatic record and clear agenda the conditions and timing for this summit are just plain wrong. But given that they are neither strong nor successful and lack an agenda convincing to any but themselves, the more likely outcome of their “summit” will be yet another festering wound in the body of the Middle East, chaos and rage in the wake of yet another Bush misadventure. And as for the victims, the peoples of Israel and Palestine, they will quickly forget that the failure was the result of Bush overreaching; that Bush was responsible for creating the expectations leading to disappointment and despair; that Bush created the conditions which may leave in its wake yet another round of self-bloodletting, another “Intifada.” And then, along with the rest of the world, Israelis and Palestinians will return to blaming themselves and each other for the crime of their unfulfilled dreams.
And Palestinians will continue in their familiar identity as victim; Jews in their post-1967 persona as oppressor. And the US and the world will tut-tut at a conflict conveniently projected on the victims, self-generated, self-perpetuated and self-deserved.
And Bush will disappear into a well-deserved historical oblivion, self-righteous, innocent and blameless to the end.