I always wonder, when thinking about then and now, whether anyone ever really meant it. The peace process has long since taken on a life of its own. Its constituents never disappear or find something more profitable to do, so there is always pressure to go all the way, over and over again, regardless of previous failure. Immense pressure.
Bush’s involvement seems like a case in point. By 2007, he was battered and weakened by Iraq and looking for traction in the Middle East, especially against Iran, and a means of regaining credibility and public approval. The dynamics that earlier in the administration had allowed a decision against continued investment in the peace process had shifted. And in this weakened state, one of the things Bush and Rice were lectured on most incessantly was the peace process. The Iraq Study Group report, released in December 2006, insisted that the road to peace in Baghdad ran through Palestine. This wasn’t a new idea, but actually a very old one that has been applied to countless examples of unrest in the region. It’s hard to understate the sanctity with which the peace process is viewed in Europe, at the UN, in the State Department, and among an august group of geriatric realists. The president may wish to ignore the peace process, but the peace process will not ignore the president.
(Apropros of nothing, it is always amazing to listen to people criticize Bush for shelving the peace process. They absolutely never talk about the context in which the decision was made. That context was the Karine A, the Iranian arms ship that was captured by Israel in transit to the Palestinian Authority carrying 50 tons of weapons. Israel had also discovered that Arafat was personally directing the terror war. It would have been unfathomable that four months after 9/11, the United States would commence a war on terrorism by insisting that its closest Middle East ally try to make peace with a man who was writing checks to suicide bombers.)
Anyway, I think you both give too much credit to the earnest claims made about the peace process, and too little to the cynical reasons for its existence. It’s not about peace. It’s about catering to the illusions of what has become a self-sustaining diplomatic, bureaucratic, and media industry. The smart way to handle the peace process is not to rail against it (however well-deserved), but to palliate it.
The next administration is certain to pursue something that it will call the peace process. The question is one of ambition and scale. If Obama is smart, this will be a modest operation with humble ambitions that will allow no opportunities for moments of conspicuous failure, such as Camp David and Annapolis. I fear that at this point, railing against the peace process is a bit like railing against fluoridated water or the federal income tax. The best strategy is to try to minimize the harm.