Bush in Israel/Palestine: Two Steps Forward, But How Many Steps Back?

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This week’s events on the Israel-Palestinian front with President Bush’s visit still leave the prospects for peace open to questioning. Mixed signals from the White House on settlements, a myopic focus on Iran, the endorsement of refugee compensation, and Blair’s plans to join JPMorgan Chase create a muddled backdrop to assess the progress of Bush’s visit. What was really needed to build on last year’s Annapolis conference was a decisive punctuation point to signal the seriousness and resolve of the US, primarily to the Palestinians and Arab world, and I don’t think that has yet happened.
The call upon Israel for settlement freeze made last Friday by the White House was positive news — it demonstrated some rhetorical resolve that they were committed to the process restarted at Annapolis. But statements made this week by President Bush in Israel left him vulnerable to the charge that such resolve would not rise above rhetoric. When pressed on a question by AP’s Anne Gearan, the President seemed to neglect his previous success with the bully pulpit and indicated that all the US could do was provide nudges from the sidelines. The transcript is as follows:

Q Mr. President, are you disappointed that the Israelis and the Palestinians haven’t made more specific progress since Annapolis, and is it maybe time for you to apply some of that direct pressure you referred to earlier?

PRESIDENT BUSH: …Now, implicit in your question is whether or not the President should butt in and actually dictate the end result of the agreement. In my judgment, that would cause there to be a non-lasting agreement. In my judgment, the only way for there to be a vision that means something is for the parties to seriously negotiate that vision. If you’re asking me, am I nudging them forward — well, my trip was a pretty significant nudge, because yesterday they had a meeting — and by the way, the atmosphere in America was, nothing is going to happen, see, that these issues are too big on the ground; therefore, you two can’t get together and come up with any agreements. You just heard the man talk about their desire to deal with core issues, which I guess for the uneducated on the issue, that means dealing with the issues like territory and right of return and Jerusalem. Those are tough issues — the issue of Israeli security. And they’re going to sit down at the table and discuss those issues in seriousness.

Equally troubling the President’s expansion of his visit into a platform to stump against Iran, a move that will not only jeopardize the peace process but — by attempting to unite Israel and Arab states against Iran — inevitably do more damage to the region. Ray Takeyh and Vali Nasr detail the follies of such a provocative “containment” strategy that is fraught with difficulty and peril. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to Takeyh and Nasr’s sequencing argument — that a rapprochement with Iran needs to occur prior to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, when in fact both can be pursued in tandem — I think it’s certainly careless and self-defeating to try to resolve a fifty year conflict by simply converting it into another meta-conflict.
Yesterday’s proposal of monetary compensation for Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel, an endorsement of a pivotal plank of the 2003 Geneva Accord, provided some much needed good news by offering some balance for the Palestinians. Of course the vicissitudes of the negotiation process will determine the actual substance and robustness of such balancing efforts, but the symbolic value of such a statement has real meaning that cannot escape notice. Despite the strategic motives, implicit in such a move is the moral culpability of the world — the US and Israel included — in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967 and the moral obligation to make amends.
Last, news of Blair’s joining JPMorgan Chase cannot be helpful and actually generate confusion and concern as to how dedicated an envoy he will be to the region as he accrues more lucrative advisory positions and possibly some conflicts of interest. The Financial Times editorial explains:

At some level, there is something disturbing about political leaders parlaying their fame into money after retirement. But it is the price we must pay if we want the best and brightest to go into politics rather than becoming bankers in the first place or, in the case of Mr Blair, remaining lawyers.
What is less acceptable is doing both things at the same time. Mr Blair will no doubt be scrupulous in not mixing appeals for peace and compromise in meetings with Gulf leaders with appeals for contracts for JPMorgan. But it is impossible completely to separate his identities as an international envoy and international salesman.
Mr Blair ought to make up his mind whether he wants to remain an active political figure or to become a “trusted adviser” to people with money. The fact that he would probably be good at both is not in dispute. But he must decide on one or the other and not attempt to juggle the two. Otherwise, he will mortgage his reputation to pay off the mortgage on his house.

The White House might have been able to embargo the Blair-JPMorgan announcement knowing it would chip away at the credibility of Bush’s visit. But even leaving aside that gaffe, inherent in the administration’s statements on the peace process is a lack of focus and decisiveness which might compromise the goal of a settlement within a year.
–Sameer Lalwani

Comments

4 comments on “Bush in Israel/Palestine: Two Steps Forward, But How Many Steps Back?

  1. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Of course, one must always examine the AIPAC website if seeking a true picture about how any ME developments are to be spun in Israel’s favor. And, Bush’s visit is spun just as we may expect.
    I particulary like the part about “reflect current realities”.
    Translation?
    “We ain’t giving one square inch of land back to those nasty heathen sand niggers”.
    http://www.aipac.org/130.asp#7530
    President Reiterates America’s ‘Steadfast Commitment’ to Israel’s Security
    President Bush outlined his vision for a two-state solution.
    President Bush on Thursday reaffirmed America’s commitment to Israel’s security and a two-state solution before departing Israel after his first visit to the Jewish State as president. “No agreement and no Palestinian state will be born of terror,” Bush said after meetings with both leaders. “These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized and defensible borders.” The president also restated key pledges outlined in his April 14, 2004, letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon regarding a future settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. “The agreement must establish a Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people,” the president said, adding that a negotiated resolution regarding future borders must “reflect current realities” on the ground.

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  2. Linda says:

    I stand by what I posted last night on an earlier blog of yours, Steve. The first five-minutes of “The Daily Show” Thursday night gets it right on the sophistication of diplomacy from this State Department and this administration. This is Bush’s first visit there in his life and his Presidency. It’s all photo ops and waving to the crowds. Way too little and way too late. I especially like the cute Israeli girl singing “Over the Rainbow” to Bush in Hebrew.
    And it’s not funny but very sad!

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  3. Carroll says:

    To quote the ad that use to be on here…this (Isr-Pal) has been brown for so long it looks like green.
    Bush’s rhetoric has changed but is there anything behind it?
    From what I have noticed I tend to think some kind of US pressure is being put on Israel.
    I recently saw that in Karen Hughes’s report to Bush on her ME assignment, she determined that Arab resentment of Isr-Pal generated more anti Americanism than Iraq has in the ME.
    The Saudis and other gulf countries certainly don’t seem willing to genuflect to the US any more on the eternal Israeli peace stall.
    Saw today that the Israeli terrorist settlers and religious cults protested Bush saying he was committing a “holocuast on the jews” and God gave them all the land of Israel. As well as the Palestines protesting Bush for favoring Israel.
    Unsurprising though Bush was joined in his trip by the usual US Lukid agents in our government, Abrams and some others.
    Then Netanyhoo was invited to a meeting with Bush, most likely arranged by Abrams, and told Bush that Israel “would not” divide Jerusalem or give back any settlements. For a bunch of little midget nazis entirely dependent on the US’s support for it’s survival that is tough talk.
    For the 1,000,000th time. If you want any peace in the ME cut off the US money and let it be known to the world that Israel is on it’s own. They will either settle or committ their own suicide.

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  4. Zathras says:

    President Bush’s remarks about settlements may indeed have been mere rhetoric. Certainly the record to date indicates he will not hold up against any significant amount of pressure brought upon him either by the Israeli government or people sympathetic to West Bank settlements in this country.
    Having said that, though, the rhetoric itself is new. Administrations before Bush’s regularly objected to settlements, viewing them as (at a minimum) unhelpful, but they rarely addressed the issue directly in public. Even now, I wonder how Presidential candidates — in either party — would respond if asked directly whether most non-contiguous Israeli settlements should be abandoned. Bush’s remarks stopped well short of that position (which, of course, is itself well short of what Palestinians think should be done), but his administration has been so obliging of Israel and silent for so long about the crucial question of settlements, that one would have to expect its recent references to the issue to inspire some reaction, both in this country and in Israel. It might be interesting to see what that reaction would be.

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