Six long years of failed Middle East policies have finally brought President George W. Bush to recognize that the alliance of moderates in the region that he covets can only be forged through an Arab-Israeli peace. Indeed, only by effectively addressing the Israeli-Arab dispute can he possibly salvage America’s standing in the region. But the round of peacemaking that America has recently embarked upon not only comes too late in the political life of a lame-duck president who has been defeated at home and abroad; it is also ill-conceived and unconvincing.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s adamant resistance to engage the Syrians is not exactly wise policy. The stakes for a peaceful regional order are too high for Israel and the United States to persist in refusing to put Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s current peace offensive to the test. The bones of contention that wrecked previous attempts to reach an Israeli-Syrian peace have realistic solutions, as was shown by the back-channel peace talks recently held between an Israeli ex-official and a Syrian with close connections to the regime.
Nor is Rice’s insistence on sticking to the failed “road map” for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement promising. Susceptible to procrastination and evasion by both sides, the road map was stillborn. Almost four years after it was first launched, neither of the parties has managed to muster the political will necessary to implement its primary provisions. Not even the bizarre idea, reserved for the second stage, of a Palestinian state with “temporary borders” is enticing for the Palestinians.
This Gordian knot needs to be cut, not untied. The concept of interim agreements has now become utterly obsolete, if only because the parties are incapable of paying the political price inherent in an open-ended, piecemeal process.