Not much has changed in the eight years since George W. Bush became president with regard to brokering a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Hope itself remains elusive, with measured violence threatening to mushroom into another war.
Indeed, "war" was how Defense Minister Ehud Barak described Israel's three days of air strikes on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. By yesterday, the response to Hamas' rocket attacks on Jewish settlements in southern Israel had left more than 300 Palestinians dead, about 50 believed to be civilians.
The death toll set off a torrent of verbal fusillades from Hamas supporters in the greater Shiite Muslim community, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran as well as Hezbollah's leaders in Lebanon. Calling Israel "bloodthirsty," Khamenei also criticized the "silence of Arab countries who claim to be Muslim."
Conversely, the Bush administration focused on Hamas' rocket attacks on Jewish towns, which intensified after a shaky cease-fire officially ended on Dec. 19. "In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to a sustainable and durable cease-fire," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Absolutely. But President Bush could have done more to broker a sustainable agreement before now. Bush came into office eight years ago voicing his disdain for the personal diplomacy of President Bill Clinton, who tried but failed to broker peace at Camp David. The progress Clinton did make was largely lost by Bush, who never made the same commitment to Mideast diplomacy.
Bush instead waged war on Iraq, expressing his desire to find WMD while hoping that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would usher in a new era in which Mideast democracies besides Israel would be born, recognize the Jewish state's right to exist, and make peace throughout the region. Only in Bush's final year as president did Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put her full effort behind negotiating a durable agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. She has failed.
There is no peace, though Iraq has been conquered. The lessons for President-elect Barack Obama are evident. With economic calamity threatening this nation, he will be pressed to keep his eyes focused on the domestic situation. But the Bush experience has proved the Mideast will also require his personal attention.