What if Condoleezza Rice came to Jerusalem, and nobody cared?
When you have been watching the peace process for enough years, you start to wonder whether anything is ever serious. So here was Rice asking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for confidence-building measures, accordingly he announced the removal of 50 West Bank roadblocks and several key checkpoints, leaving the Secretary of State “amazed.” Yet on the same day, he also announced the resumption of building in major settlement blocs, in flat contradiction to his previous commitments.
So Condi is trying to make sure President Bush has some points scored in advance of his upcoming visit to Israel, and Olmert is trying to make sure that both Labor and Shas stay in his government. Does anybody care whether these actions actually mean anything? Whether the removal of roadblocks will result in (a) the significant easing of Palestinian life, (b) the significant facilitating of terrorist activity, with its attendant innocents butchered, or (c) both? Has anyone followed up on whether last fall’s Annapolis bonanza amounted to anything, or what the expansion of settlements means for future borders? Why does this all feel so ephemeral?
Put another way: This story seems to have no point, no thesis, other than its own telling. I’m not saying that nothing real can happen in Middle East diplomacy: The Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, and the withdrawal from Gaza — all these things were real, for better or worse. But all of them required extremely dedicated movers, people with a vision, and the guts, political savvy, and wherewithal to carry it out.
Our situation is different: Nobody on either side of the fence really thinks Israel and the PA–which anyway represents only West Bank Palestinians now–are likely to reach any kind of meaningful peace agreement in the next year. Nor does anyone think that the present Israeli government is capable of implementing all the oft-avowed “painful concessions” such a deal would entail. Olmert is no Begin or Sharon. He is, instead, the man who brought you Lebanon II, probably the most inconclusive war in Middle East history. Nor is Bush really looking for dramatic achievements which can backfire on the electoral side and land his successor with a still-deeper mess. This is a dance of shadows, a mirage.