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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bush not fully engaged in Israel - 'Palestinian' dispute

Robert Satloff puts together a pretty credible argument that if you read closely what President Bush said (and did not say) at Annapolis last week, it becomes clear that he's smart enough not to stake his Presidency or its legacy on Israel and the 'Palestinians' reaching an agreement during his term in office:
No less significant than the technicalities of the joint understanding was the measured message delivered by President Bush in his subsequent remarks to the Annapolis gathering. Many participants -- perhaps even U.S. officials -- came to Annapolis to discern for themselves the extent of personal effort, commitment, and zeal the president will place on achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty before he leaves the White House. And his message was clear: the president will not be throwing the dice on a gamble to achieve a legacy of success in the Middle East peace process in the final year of his presidency.

A close reading of the president's remarks shows that he is most concerned with changing the regional dynamic by creating an environment of progress, not necessarily a moment of achievement. He did not repeat, for example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's famous formulation that "now is the time for a Palestinian state." Instead, his formulation was "now is precisely the right time to begin these negotiations." Although he pledged to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that he would give his "effort" to "help [them] achieve this important goal," he stated that the job of America and all other third parties is "to encourage" and "support" the Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, on several occasions, he underscored the fact that the parties themselves, not Washington, are responsible for the pace of progress, and that the United States "cannot achieve [success] for them."

Interestingly, at no point did he characterize the need for diplomatic breakthrough as urgent, though he did call on the parties to "show patience and flexibility." He repeated this theme several times, including statements such as "the task begun here at Annapolis will be difficult" and "a lot of work remains to be done." In short, these were not the words of a president who sees the prospect of a peace deal so tantalizingly close that he is prepared to offer the equivalent of a "Bush Peace Plan" in order to achieve it.

Over the next twelve months, President Bush's calculus may change; he would, after all, not be the first president to catch the peace process bug. But taken together, the president's words at Annapolis suggest that he would not consider the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian treaty in a year's time a failure, if the parties were still working cooperatively toward that goal. From that perspective -- and, in fact, by any objective measure -- handing the baton of a functioning peace process to his successor would itself constitute success.
Satloff also has some interesting observations on the consequences of the US being declared the judge as to whether road map obligations have been fulfilled:
The emphasis on Washington acting as judge is significant. First, it takes the Roadmap out of the hands of the Quartet (the UN, European Union, United States, and Russia) and places sole responsibility on Washington. Second, the double use of the term "judge" suggests that the Bush administration is prepared to be more active and vocal in identifying noncompliance than it was in the past. Yet, it is not clear whether the ground rules for judging compliance are in place. Indeed, the joint understanding only noted that all parties "agree to form an American, Palestinian, and Israeli mechanism to follow up implementation of the Roadmap" -- not how that mechanism would actually function.


More important, the idea that only "implementation" of a treaty is conditioned on the Roadmap suggests that the authors of the joint understanding entertained the possibility of actually reaching and ratifying an accord while delaying actual execution until the security environment is conducive. Reading between the lines, this strategy appears to be a means of working around Hamas's control of Gaza.
Read it all.


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