I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:
America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .
History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]
This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.
Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:
All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.
Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that
[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.
What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.
A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.