Palestinian, Israeli agreement won’t be Bush’s doing

By Freedom New Mexico

It’s unlikely President Bush will do much harm during his current trip through the Middle East, even though he does look a bit like an emperor making a ceremonial visit to the provinces.

In some ways it is admirable seeing him trying to make an impression on a part of the world that is notably impervious to outside influences. But he is in serious danger of declining, further, into a cliché.

It seems to have become something of a job requirement for American presidents, once they are lame ducks and have no further domestic political capital in the bank — remembering the one thing Jimmy Carter did that few people criticize — to make one last-ditch effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thus President Clinton convened an abortive meeting at Camp David in 2000. And thus President Bush announces, with imperial bravado, that he has a timeline, even if the Israelis and Palestinians don’t; he only has one more year in office.

He just might get lucky. It might be that the Israelis and Palestinians are close to being ready to come to something more formal than a temporary cease-fire, although the path to peace is littered with the wreckage of similar hopes, and both Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas are weak leaders who are in no position to strong-arm their constituencies into uncomfortable compromises.

If a peace agreement ensues, however, President Bush will get more credit than he deserves. Peace between Palestine and Israel will come when both sides agree the costs of continuing the conflict are higher than the costs of compromise.

An American president can nudge the process along a bit if it is already well under way, but he can’t get leaders in other countries to make politically nettlesome agreements unless the peoples they lead are ready for them.

And whether it is justified or not, the perception in much of the Arab world that the president is a largely uncritical supporter of Israel hardly enhances his image as an honest broker.

As for the crusade to bring democracy to the Middle East, it doesn’t look all that sincere when the president is praising the leaders of Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia or Egypt in an effort to stabilize a grand coalition against Iran.