Getting off the shuttle to nowhere

The Washington Post reports that Secretary of State Rice is heading to the Middle East for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders ahead of a “peace” conference scheduled in Washington for November. Rice’s goal is not to engage in “shuttle diplomacy” but instead to see how much progress, if any, has been made during talks between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas. This seems like a reasonable approach — whatever progress can be made in Washington will have to be based on any common ground Olmert and Abbas are able to identify — although perhaps not as reasonable as staying home and checking in by telephone.
Yet the Post’s Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler find that “key players question whether [Rice] is doing enough diplomatic legwork or outlining specific goals for the [November] conference.” Thus, Dennis Ross (thankfully no longer a “key player” but still playing one on tv) sniffs that “the way you shuttle is that you shuttle.”
Undoubtedly. But the question is whether shuttling is the way to bring about peace. If the experiences of Ross — perhaps the least successful diplomat of modern times — are any guide, the answer is no. Ross shuttled for a decade or so and never came close to producing peace. His efforts were doomed by his foolish belief that Arafat was someone with whom peace could be negotiated and, more generally, that the Palestinians were interested in co-existing with Israel. By ascertaining whether Olmert and Abbas have made progress, Rice is obtaining information that could (but won’t necessarily) prevent her from repeating Ross’s follies.
Speking of follies, the Bush administration also draws criticism from Bruce Reidel, a negotiator at the disastrous 2000 Camp David talks. Reidel says that Bush “has not in almost seven years used his political capital to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process; instead he has been notably absent.” But by not artificially seeking to advance a “process” that exists only in the minds of fools and seekers of the Nobel Peace Prize, Bush has done our allies the Israelis a great favor. Where Oslo and Camp David helped produce waves of terrorism against the people of Israel, the absence of such events has helped enable Israel to secure itself against acts of terror, which today are essentially non-existent.
Nor have the Palestinians been harmed in the (non) process. The enhanced security Israel has obtained provides the Palestinians with yet another opportunity to make peace should they, by some miracle, be so inclined.
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