Editorial: Optimism in ‘Extra Time’

Editorial: Optimism in ‘Extra Time’
19 May 2008

US President George Bush still insists that he continues to be optimistic about the Palestinians and Israelis reaching a peace agreement before the end of the year. Virtually nobody else believes it is a possibility.

He does not talk of a grand master plan that would resolve all the disputes, whether they are the right of return, Jerusalem, settlements, checkpoints, Gaza sanctions or prisoners. The talk now is simply of defining what a Palestinian state would look like. Defining the borders, but doing so on a map or in a document, not demarcating it on the ground.

Nobody will start rolling up sleeves and actually begin shoveling the dirt and setting up construction signs that read “Work in Progress.” A Palestinian state by the end of the year would be only theoretical in nature and may be hypothetical, and its blueprint will surely be torpedoed after the first Israeli attack on Hamas or one Hamas rocket attack on Israel.

Bush does not appear as optimistic as he was when he first announced the Annapolis plan to bring peace at year’s end. For one thing, the speech he delivered at the Knesset underscored that the main emphasis of his visit was to celebrate the relationship between Israel and the US first and the peace process a distant second. Bush didn’t use his time in the Knesset to talk about what is supposed to be a top priority for him in his final year-the peace process he officially launched last November. In addition, a three-way summit with Palestinians and Israelis was not planned during his trip, another sign of the low expectations of any breakthrough during the visit.

Also his talk about his heart breaking to see the “vast potential of the Palestinian people, really, wasted,” is as if to say it’s a crying shame but it’s just too bad, he can do nothing about it.

Even stalwart secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who has been going to Jerusalem and Ramallah almost every month for the past two years, says a deal within the next eight months “might be improbable but it’s not impossible.” Actually, it probably is impossible. Factually, there has rarely been a less auspicious moment to push for peace. Things are worse now than they were even two years ago. The reason: After spending most of his term being an observer rather than an active partner, Bush is now doing too little too late in the Middle East. When he finally woke up, his belated US diplomatic effort had run into a number of obstacles, the most serious being the Fatah-Hamas split within the Palestinian ranks and the misguided US strategy of sidelining Hamas and talking to only half the Palestinian people.

Given these circumstances, Bush is not as optimistic as his pronouncements suggest. He still — and this is in extra time — seems undecided as to whether he should be as assertive as a successful process requires him to be. With the likelihood of a final peace off the table, the best Bush can now hope for is to keep negotiations alive. But that’s not what he said in Annapolis.

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