In Washington last November, meeting Tony Blair, Mr Bush said he would “spend the capital” of the US on establishing a Palestinian state. “I’d like to see it done in four years,” Mr Bush said. “I think it is possible.”
—Financial Times (FT)
All those who compile lists of George Bush’s flubs have another big one to add to their arsenal. FT reported yesterday this presidential reply to a reporter:
“So you [the reporter] said I would like to see two states before I get out of office. Not true,” he told an Arab reporter. “I’d like to see two states. And if it happens before I get out of office, I’ll be there to witness the ceremony. And if it doesn’t, we will work hard to lay that foundation so that the process becomes irreversible.”
For some strange reason, in its own reporting on the Bush-Abbas press conference the NY Times completely missed this important element of Bush’s statement (I guess the Times editors might have a few things to be distracted about).
FT notes the speculation of a Clinton era Mideast specialist on the reason for Bush’s backpedaling:
One analyst involved in former president Bill Clinton’s failed efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said Mr Bush’s apparent indifference over timing stemmed from his belief that Mr Clinton’s over-engagement was a negative influence because he had been more determined to get into the history books than to resolve the problem.
I don’t know why the source couldn’t be attributed. From the sound of it it must be either Dennis Ross or Aaron Miller. What’s the reason for such secrecy fellas?
No matter what the reasons, Bush’s retreat is ominous. There will never be peace between Israelis and Palestinians with a U.S. president backing away from his own previous commitments as Bush has here. When he said he’d spend whatever political capital was necessary to get it done he was moving in the right direction. Apparently, just when Israeli-Palestinian relations are taking a somewhat positive turn (possibly temporarily), Bush backs off. How can we or Bush ever expect peace with such dithering?
I wonder whether Bush’s distractions with Plamegate, the disintegration of his Iraq policy, and his plummeting popularity are taking a toll. Perhaps his previously expressed willingness to stay the course regarding some of the especially complicated problems he’s indicated an interest in resolving (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being foremost) has been irreparably harmed by scandal and other factors.
This statement too was disappointing:
Mr Bush stressed the “historic significance” of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, congratulating both sides for their co-operation.
He said the pullout created new opportunities and put the onus on the Palestinians to act first “by confronting the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine”. He also called on Israel not to expand its settlements in the West Bank.
Sharon is in the midst of a massive expansion of Maale Adumim outside Jerusalem and Bush has the temerity to call on Israel mildly and meekly to stop expanding settlements? He’s gotta be kidding. Not to mention that the Road Map doesn’t “put the onus” on Palestinians to “act first” in confronting Hamas. It states that cessation of settlement building is to go hand in hand with ending terrorist violence. Both of these bozos, Bush and Sharon tell the world they’re for the Road Map. But their interpretation of it changes according to their own changing political situation. This too doesn’t bode well.
And just in case you thought Bush might be engaging in a verbal misstep, Haaretz brings us this emphatic confirmation of U.S. betrayal of the Road Map:
A senior U.S. State Department official said Friday that Israeli and Palestinian obligations undertaken in the “road map” peace plan are not of equal importance.
The official, who requested to remain anonymous, said the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to fight terror is more crucial than Israel’s to freeze settlement construction and evacuate illegal settlement outposts
Sharon’s not even IN Washington and he seems to be the biggest victor here. Bush has given him all the running room he needs to continue his major settlement expansion in the West Bank. Plus, Bush has given his seal of approval to Sharon’s plan to take a long deep peacemaking slumber after completing the Gaza withdrawal. Just remember, as far as this conflict is concerned inaction equals death…of both Israelis and Palestinians.
The White House website has a transcript and video of the press conference.