If the dinner conversation at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is focused on a “Middle Eastern peace process, it’s a pretty safe guess that it is currently year seven or eight of a two-term American presidency. Like clockwork, as the time for him to leave office draws near, President Bush, like Bill Clinton before him, has turned a hopeful eye to the Levant as a solution to his “legacy” problem. This problem is that, like his predecessor, the Bush presidency (short of a miracle) stands to be remembered largely for its poor choices, bad policy, and abysmal public relations, rather than for any large successes in the domestic or foreign policy realms.
According to Reuters, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “has made clear she will devote all her energy in the Bush administration’s final 14 months to get what others have failed to attain in the past — a viable, independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure Israel.” The fact that the U.S. is currently fighting a war on two fronts in the region — in Iraq and Afghanistan — and is dealing with the growing Iranian and Syrian nuclear threats would suggest that America has higher priorities in the Middle East than wandering yet again over the well-worn ground in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
However, the Bush administration and its perpetually disappointing Secretary of State, appears more than willing to flee down this path, in an apparent attempt to divert journalists and historians from its as-yet-unsuccessful attempt at nation building in Iraq, and to enshrine in its legacy one inarguable foreign-policy success. To this end, a “Palestinian statehood conference” will be held at the end of November in Maryland.
The Bush administration is repeating several mistakes its predecessors made.
The first is allowing the Palestinian and Arab representatives a seat at the negotiating table (and thereby conferring legitimacy upon their positions in the exchange) without setting as preconditions the recognition of the Zionist state’s right to exist and the renouncing of terror as a weapon.
The second mistake is following the lead set by previous administrations and negotiators, who have insisted on unilateral concessions by Israel as a starting point for negotiations. Among the enormous concessions the administration is asking Israel to make are the transference of sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinians and the surrender of Israeli sovereignty over the sacred Temple Mount in that city.
In addition, more than 90 percent of neighboring Judea and Samaria would be surrendered should the Bush-Rice plan be agreed to, something which would immediately convert the more than 100,000 Israelis living in those areas into refugees and eliminate the crucial buffer that protects the narrow Jewish state from Palestinian rocket and other indirect fire attack. Further, according to the administration and their willing accomplice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, (holder of a staggering 9% approval rating for just this reason) an agreement regarding the so-called Palestinian “right of return” (the right of Palestinians to re-populate the areas they left or were driven from during the 1948 war for Israeli independence) would be discussed, as well. Every one of these proposed concessions is problematic for reasons of security and sovereignty. (A “return” by all Palestinians now in refugee camps and around the world would convert Israel into a majority-Arab state. In short, Israel would cease to exist.)
The third mistake lies in the administration’s assumption that the Palestinians and their leaders, as well as the surrounding nations, actually desire peace with Israel. Since the last Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire was agreed to last November, inhabitants of the Gaza Strip south of Israel have launched nearly 400 homemade Qassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, as well as at the Israeli plant which provides Gaza with its power.
Rice has publicly stated that the Palestinian people hold the same values that Americans do, and desire peaceful, prosperous lives just as much. But even a brief look at Palestinian state television shows how wrong that conclusion is.
For the glorification of suicide bombers (or “martyrs”, as Palestinian television labels them), the question to the children of suicide bombers is “how many Jews did your father kill?” That and the veneration of murdering Israelis as the ultimate goal in life — all on children’s programming — is standard fare on both Hamas and Fatah-funded state television.
And why, especially now, has Rice has sought advice on the “peace process” from two caustic critics of the administration, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton?. The decision to speak with the former Presidents might not have been the worst one if other former presidents (such as this president’s father) were at the top of the list. Otherwise, consulting the rest only makes sense as a pursuit of advice on what not to do.
Carter has become a more and more vocal opponent of Israel’s sovereignty, most notably with his terrorist-supporting call to “give Hamas a chance” in control of the Palestinian government (after he certified their electoral victory in January 2006) and in his book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,” in which he accused the Jewish state of waging a war on the human rights of those who attack Israel on a daily basis. Regardless of what position he might have held in the past with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is clear that Carter is neither an unprejudiced observer nor a sound source of advice on a plan for peace which does not give our best ally in the region short shrift.
Seeking advice from Clinton was a poor choice for different reasons. First, Clinton’s attempt at brokering a Middle East peace deal, was, like Bush’s, a last-ditch, poorly-conceived attempt at salvaging his tarnished presidential legacy. Clinton was ultimately unsuccessful in his peace efforts; in fact, it was during Clinton’s last few months in office that the second intifada broke out, sparking several more years of violence.
The biggest reason why it was a mistake for the Bush administration to seek the advice of President Clinton, though, has to do with timing. At a time when Clinton’s wife, Hillary, is the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, the appearance of asking that former president for counsel confers upon him — and, by extension, her — an aura of foreign policy expertise they neither deserve nor currently possess. Rice’s move reinforces the impression that this administration, already thought by many to be inept, requires the assistance of the Clintons to do anything right outside the borders of the U.S.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be ‘solved’ in the fourteen months that President Bush has remaining in office no matter who is consulted. It especially cannot be resolved through unilateral Israeli concessions, many of which mirror the concessions that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat walked away from, under Clinton.
The fact that Bush and Rice doing this in the same failed manner that their predecessors Clinton and Albright did only seven years ago shows that the decision-makers in the administration have maintained the same lack of historical and practical understanding that led them into the foreign and domestic policy blunders that they have made thus far.