The Real World: Bush’s Middle East Tour

Date: 01-11-2008 | Category: Articles, Middle East

The Real World: Bush’s Middle East Tour

The Real World: Bush’s Middle East Tour
by Ariel Cohen
As Americans turn to the primaries season in preparation to electing the next president, George W. Bush ventures to the Middle East. He should be addressing vital American interests in the region, and some issues that may shore up his legacy.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, however, many in Washington argue, is no longer the fulcrum of American policy in the region. The key U.S. interests in the region today are: winning the war in Iraq, or at least managing violence and the complex political processes there; containing Iran; and ensuring the flow of oil to prevent a global economic recession. We will see next week how the president has done in dealing with those issues.
In the meantime, the first leg of his trip took him to Israel and the West Bank to boost the Annapolis process. Gaza is noticeably absent from his trip, as Hamas is opposed to the current round of peace-seeking and would not roll out a red carpet to the American president. On the contrary: 20,000 Palestinians in the Hamas-organized rally denounced Bush as a "vampire," fired rockets at an American school in Gaza, and launched rockets against the neighboring Israeli town of Sderot.
Gaza, unfortunately, stands for everything that is wrong with these attempts to seek peace: Hamas was elected in a half-baked attempt to promote democracy, despite both Israeli and Palestinian Authority’s dire warnings. It rejected every opportunity to recognize Israel and participate in the peace talks, despite the begging from the Europeans and entreaties from the Americans.
Hamas demonstrated that the "pothole school of political science" does not work. Some naive souls in Washington believed that the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot will suddenly become rational and pragmatic when facing the need to fix the potholes in Khan Yunis city.
Instead, Hamas embarked on a systematic campaign of shooting Qassam rockets and Katyushas against Sderot and Ashkelon. This is a good preview of how the "peace" with the future Palestinian state would look if not prepared thoroughly and with ample time. Rushing to an agreement may literally cost many lives.
Hamas did everything to prevent peace. It kidnapped a dreamy, peacenik Israeli soldier named Gil’ad Shalit. Solidarity with that kidnapping triggered the Hezbollah killing and kidnapping of eight Israeli soldiers last summer that in turn triggered the unnecessary war between Israel and Lebanon.
Hamas leaders treated the world to the horrible pictures of pushing Fatah men off rooftops in Gaza, while flaunting Saudi efforts to bring peace between itself and Fatah -- the long-dead Mecca Accords.
It turned Gaza into a Sharia mini-state. The Iranian paymasters of Hamas can be proud of their pupils and protégés.
In order to move the Annapolis process forward, Bush, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the two King Abdullahs [Saudi and Jordanian] need to find the answer to Hamas. So far, they have not.
Instead, Bush is treated at home and in the region as a lame duck, while many in the media have written about U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s desire to ensure a peacemaking legacy for herself and her president. However, this is hardly enough for a breakthrough in the peace process between Israel and the Arab world without preconditions for peace being achieved.
One such precondition are the close ties between democracies that stood together for 60 years. But Israeli critics say that Bush is willing to endanger America’s legacy of good relations with the Jewish State. He is talking about "ending occupation that began in 1967" -- not about the need for recognition and reconciliation between the tiny Israel and the expansive, powerful and rich Arab states.
Bush has also commended the Arab League, despite its abysmal record of issuing extremist anti-Israeli statements and boycotting Egypt after it signed the Camp David accords in 1979.
As the prominent historian Michael Oren wrote in the Jerusalem Post, Bush, who for seven years of his presidency was rhetorically very friendly to Israel, is sending mixed signals.
He refused to address the Knesset, did not have a meeting with the opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is likely to be the next prime minister, and demanded Israel’s dismantlement of the West Bank "illegal" outposts, while not demanding simultaneously Palestinian compliance with the road map, Oren says.
The Palestinians have not dismantled terrorist infrastructure, have not unified their militias into a security service firmly under Abbas’ control, and have not stopped vicious anti-Israel (and often anti-American) propaganda in the media, schools and mosques.
Also importantly, Abbas has not signaled any commitment to giving up the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants to the pre-1967 Israel, a sure non-starter for the negotiations. He does not indicate any desire to compromise on Jerusalem or on the final borders.
Thus, by promising the Palestinians a state now, while they flaunted the road map and many of them gave a hand to Hamas’ atrocities, Bush and Rice are rewarding the very behavior which prevented peace between Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs since 1948: intransigence and the culture of hatred.
This is hardly the way to give Bush and Rice their heart’s desire of being the godparents of Arab-Israeli peace.
Some Arab intellectuals recognize that a culture of hatred is the crux of the matter. In two recent articles, Mamoun Fandy, writing in the ash-Sharq al-Awsat, says that the Arabs failed to accomplish a "warm" peace, preferring the status quo. Fandy calls it "neither marriage, nor divorce."
And Kamal Gabriel, writing in Elaf, diagnoses the allergy in the Arab world to normalization of relations -- not just with Israel, but also with ethnic and religious minorities in the region.
According to Gabriel, the pan-Arabists and the Islamists, with their accusations of treason against every Arab leader who wanted to end the conflict with Israel, are the biggest enemies of peace. They are more dangerous than the Israeli fence aimed at fending off suicide bombers, and bigger than the villages and towns Israel planted since 1967.
Bush and Rice are up against a very strong enemy indeed: lack of tolerance embedded in the culture, uncontrollable mixing of rhetoric and policy, religious extremism, fanaticism and deep hatred of Israel and the Jews. This is the legacy of the last 100 years in the Holy Land.
It will be indeed tough to succeed where so many failed before them.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. The views expressed in the article are his alone.

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