That a summit in Damascus of the Middle East’s “axis of evil” – Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, and Hamas – was convened immediately following President George W. Bush’s call for a conference of “moderates” to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace demonstrates once again how intertwined the region’s problems are. The Damascus meeting reflects Iran’s view of Israeli-Arab peace as a major strategic threat, because it would condemn it to isolation in a hostile Arab environment free of its conflict with Israel. The Iranians also sought the meeting to forge an alliance against a possible US attack on their country’s nuclear installations.
America has always known that the Middle East’s problems are interconnected, but for years it got its priorities wrong, because it failed to see that if there was an Archimedean point to the Middle East problem, it was to be found in the Palestinian issue, not the “War on Terror,” Iraq, or the need for Arab democracy. It took Bush six years of wrongheaded policies to finally admit that “Iraq is not the only pivotal matter in the Middle East.”
Bush’s initiative is a last-ditch effort to salvage America’s position in a region where it is on the defensive on all fronts. It is especially ironic that, in stark contrast to his own rhetoric, Bush’s call for a Middle East peace conference is a call to wage war against the party, Hamas, that won a democratic election, and to make peace with the loser, Fatah.
Nevertheless, Bush’s initiative is not devoid of virtue. He has finally acknowledged the failure of the “road map,” and hence the need to skip interim stages and move directly to a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, both he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were unusually blunt in warning Israel that its future does not lie in “continued occupation of the West Bank.” Bush also came as close as he could to endorsing former President Bill Clinton’s peace plan by affirming that “the borders of the past, the realities of the present, and agreed changes” will define his two-state solution.