I agree, Rick: the formal end of the Bush administration’s year-long Israel-Palestinian mediation suggests that — eight bloody, still-stateless years after Camp David — the Palestinian leadership remains as stubborn as ever.
But, quite frankly, we Americans are no less stubborn. The failure of the Oslo peace process at Camp David eight years ago should have taught us at least one thing about the Palestinians: that no Palestinian leader — whether garbed in a tacky military uniform or a suit and tie — would be willing to settle for less than 100% of the West Bank and a capital in East Jerusalem. Moreover, Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections should have taught us that a more popular segment of the Palestinian body politic would demand much more: namely, the long-run destruction of the state of Israel, with peace agreements marking the interim stages of this strategy.
Yet during the last year of the Bush administration — much as during the entirety of the Clinton administration — our foreign policymakers banked on the foolishly optimistic hope that, somehow, the more moderate Palestinian bottom lines would suddenly become negotiable. Somehow, they reasoned, the terminally weak (but supposedly good-natured) Mahmoud Abbas would agree to terms that the politically strong Yasser Arafat walked away from. In turn, American foreign policy once again played host to a “process” — one that, very predictably, gave Israelis, Palestinians, and American taxpayers excellent diplomatic theater, but zero substantive accomplishments.
To be sure, Annapolis hasn’t left either Israel or the Palestinians worse off than they were a year ago. Still, one is forced to wonder: to what extent did Condoleezza Rice’s Jerusalem jet-setting undermine U.S. efforts to press Pakistan on counterterrorism? How many intelligence agents were examining satellite images of Israeli settlements when they could have been monitoring Russian troop movements along the Georgian border? How much of our diplomatic staff was focusing on potential Jerusalem policing arrangements rather than sounding the alarm regarding Iran’s increasing involvement in Lebanese affairs? (Memo to the administration: Lebanon recently asked Iran to supply it with midsize weapons — something that we were supposed to be doing.)
As for Israeli-Palestinian peace, one of two things will happen: either Israel will accept the Palestinian bottom line of 100% of the West Bank, or it will insist on maintaining most of the settlements and therefore seek alternatives to the same old process. Naturally, the outcome of the February 2009 Knesset elections will be critical to Israeli decision-making. Either way, future U.S. administrations should avoid getting bogged down in negotiations when — changes in leaders’ attire aside — too little has changed.