I’ve frequently noted the evolution of Bush administration foreign policy regarding North Korea, Iran and the Palestinian Authority into that of the Clinton administration. Previewing the president’s State of the Union Address on Monday, ABC News made the comparison regarding the vaunted peace process:
Bush is optimistic about achieving some kind of agreement with the Israelis and Palestinians on a Palestinian state to live side-by-side with Israel, but the senior White House official said the president recognizes that the step would be affected by the waning political strength of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Former President Bill Clinton also attempted to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Bush, who recently returned from a multi-country trip in the Middle East, believes history may be on his side.
In the words of an unnamed senior White House official (surely chief of staff Josh Bolten), the administration differentiates its diplomacy from that of the Clinton administration by reference to the substitution of Mahmoud Abbas for Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestinian Authority:
“The difference between now and the end of the Clinton administration is that [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat is gone. Arafat didn’t deliver for Clinton, and now there are Palestinians who want a democratic Israel,” said a senior White House official.
This is is an inelegant if ambiguously revealing formulation. Even the unnamed White House official does not assert that there are Palestinians who recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.
The predicate for negotiations leading to the creation of a Palestinian state was to be the Palestinian Authority’s dismantling of terorrist groups. As the Palestinian Authority never got around to dismantling terrorist groups, Condoleezza Rice deduced that diplomacy was “stuck in the sequentiality of the road map.”
When President Bush announced the Annapolis conference in July, he provided that attendance was to to be limited to representatives of nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties. In the interest of securing the attendance of states that oppose Israel’s existence, the administration abandoned the criteria it had enunciated for attendance.
The president of the Palestinian Authority has himself declined to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. If the administration had stood by the reasonable criteria President Bush had enunciated in July, Israel’s putative peace partner wouldn’t have been able to make it to the party. The administration even enlisted the attendance of an officially designated state sponsor of terror (Syria). The administration apparently did not want to get hung up on the “sequentiality” of its criteria for attending the peace conference. Now the administration is engaged in establishing the framework of a Palestinian state premised on the existence of “Palestinians who want a democratic Israel.” Is anyone paying attention?