President Bush couldn’t have chosen a worse time for his Middle East tour.
In the region, apprehension is growing about America’s Middle East policies amid the continuing mess in Iraq and the Bush administration’s attempts to isolate Iran.
At home, the election season is in full swing with public attention the presidential primaries. The word du-jour is "change" — further emphasizing the fact that Bush is a lame-duck president.
Being the optimist that he is, the president promised that a Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty will be signed this year, while he’s still in office. To accomplish that, a huge gap in demands and expectations between two sides must be bridged within months. Unfortunately, Bush gave no indications of how the conflict that has been raging for more than 60 years can be resolved in such a short time.
Aggravating the uncertainty, Bush’s partners at the negotiation table face problems of their own. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is under criminal investigation, while Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, has lost control of half of the Palestinian territories that he’s supposed to preside over.
The question thus is who’s going to ensure the continuity of the inevitably fragil peace process should Olmert and Abbas soon go, as it looks, unfortunately, likely? Will the next president of the United States honor a piece of paper that his lame-duck predecessor signed with two other weak leaders?
The core problem with Bush’s current Middle East initiative is that it came seven years too late.
(Bush is hardly the only American president who turned to the Middle East diplomacy to save his presidency. Just look at his predecessor, President Clinton, who put on the robe of a Middle East peacemaker after being unrobed by Monica Lewinsky)
The lesson that the next president of the United States must learn is that resolving the Israeli-Palestitian conflict is a full-time job. It must start on Day One in the Oval Office, regardless of what he or she brings to this office: hope or experience.