Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Last Attempt to Leave a Legacy...

Or another failed Middle East effort from the Bush administration? Yesterday, the President announced plans for a Mideast peace conference:

Seeking to revive Middle East peace talks, President Bush called Monday for an international peace conference with Israel and some of its Arab neighbors in the fall.

In announcing the meeting, Bush once again stressed that the Palestinian government must help stop attacks against Israel, arrest terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. The president had an unusually blunt message for Israel, saying its future lies in developing areas such as Negev and Galilee, "not in continuing occupation of the West Bank."

Bush said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would preside over a conference with representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and those Arab nations that recognize Israel's right to exist and support the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
I don't know if this is the result of the groundwork done by Condolezza Rice back in March, or a new effort.* Regardless, I have doubts about a conference's chance for success for a few reasons...
  • Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas doesn't have the Palestinian support necessary to restrict Hamas from disrupting the peace process, much less shutting them down completely. Abbas is only in a position to negotiate with Hamas...And about the only way Abbas can gain the upper hand in negotiating with Hamas is to use support from Israel and the U.S. That probably won't sit well with the bulk of the Arab League.
  • The 'some of its [Palestine's] Arab neighbors' section from the quote above only includes countries that recognize Israeli statehood, where a region-wide solution is necessary. Unless there is a nominal amount of confirmable, enforceable buy-in from Israel's antagonists, countries such as Egypt and Jordan will be forced to tread lightly.
  • Israel hasn't always enforced the agreements it has made, making already tough negotiations more difficult.

Now, those points (and probably a few others I've left out) are things that the U.S. can only influence, albeit strongly if necessary. But the greatest obstacle to a U.S.-brokered Palestinian/Israeli peace agreement is the U.S....The current administration's high-handed and ham-fisted approach to Middle-East politics increases the likelihood of a stillborn set of negotiations...Or, as Dennis Ross at The New Republic put it back in May, "...the plan was conceived and executed in a way that ensures it is dead on arrival":

Statecraft is about concepts and implementation. It is about recognizing what is needed and fashioning plans that can actually be carried out. I am afraid the benchmark plan--designed to affect the grim day-to-day realities and their potential for escalation--suffers from what we have all too often seen with the Bush administration: an attempt to get by on the cheap. Rather than working out (indeed grinding out) with both sides specific agreements as to what will be done, by whom, when, and with what consequences for non-performance, the administration has simply produced a new roadmap.
Condoleezza Rice presiding over a conference where a few, select regional players are gathered to agree on what the outcome should be without getting into the specifics of implementation will end up the same way most of Bush's foreign policy initiatives have...badly. You gotta do the work, instead of relying on missiles or 'statecraft on the cheap'.

*Part of the criticism of Rice's March 2007 diplomacy activity was that it was basically re-tracing Bill Clinton's failed effort towards the end of his Presidency to come to a 'final status settlement' for the Israel-Palestine conflict ...