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With his lies-based Iraq war a failure and his Presidency in tatters, an unbowed George W. Bush is launching a futile effort to broker a Mid-East peace.
Like all his efforts, the attempt is doomed from the start.
Bush’s push for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace is seen by both friends and foes as little more than posturing by a President who is grasping at straws to leave some legacy from a failed two terms.
It won’t work. It can’t work. Everybody except Bush seems to know so.
Weakened by rising public opposition to the war in Iraq, Washington this week multiplied its efforts to make an impact in the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
But analysts said despite US President George W. Bush’s call for a fresh peace push, his move risked being viewed as pure posturing because his administration has signaled no change in its oft-criticized Middle East policy.
Shortly after Bush announced plans for an international Middle East peace conference to be chaired by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this year, his spokesman scrambled to downplay expectations.
The talks were announced just days before Thursday’s meeting in Lisbon of the quartet of Middle East powers — United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations — and Europe and Saudi Arabia urged participants to produce solid results.
Both Washington and Europe believe fresh peace talks are the best means to weaken the Islamist movement Hamas, which has seized control of the Gaza Strip, and strengthen moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his newly named prime minister Salam Fayyad.
France said its support for the peace bid depends on the inclusion of the final status of the Palestinian territories in the talks’ agenda.
“This kind of conference will only bear fruit if, between now and the talks, confidence is fully reestablished between the parties,” French foreign ministry spokesman Pascale Andreani said.
Andreani also urged Israel to make “strong gestures” and called on “all Palestinians” to “renounce violence.”
Saudi Arabia, which has authored an Arab peace plan that calls for normal relations in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands occupied in 1967, said the meeting should not shy away from the key issues.
“Saudi Arabia hopes this will come within the framework of a serious international endeavor that tackles the core issues of the conflict,” leading to the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, a government spokesman said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow on Tuesday insisted it would not be a “conference” but a “meeting,” adding: “I think a lot of people are inclined to try to treat this as a big peace conference. It’s not.”
Rather, Snow described it as a chance “to sit down and try to find ways of building fundamental and critical institutions for the Palestinians that are going to enable them to have self-government and democracy.”
However, Dennis Ross, who served as US Middle East envoy under former president Bill Clinton, said the talks risked being purely “symbolic.”
“Palestinians are not looking for symbols now. They know the difference between symbols and reality. Let’s hope the Bush administration does as well,” Ross wrote in the New Republic this week.
“Results on the ground and real hopes will help (Abbas’s) Fatah … Rice would do well to keep this in mind,” said Ross.
“A credible negotiating process is one thing; a symbolic event like an international conference where only hard-line speeches are given that highlight how little prospect of agreement there is, and where there is no practical follow-up, is another.”
Critics accused Bush, who has 18 months left in his presidency, of trying to cobble together a hasty effort for peace that would not include foes such as Hamas, Iran and Syria.
“Bush’s latest foray into the thicket of Middle East politics leaves him trying to salvage some sort of legacy in the region as time runs short on his presidency,” Peter Baker and Robin Wright reported in The Washington Post on Monday.
The New York Times said Tuesday the announcement “signals another pivotal shift for an administration that is desperately seeking some kind of foreign policy victory in the volatile Middle East that would draw attention away from the war in Iraq.”
Meanwhile, administration officials who refuse to recognize any link between the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, also expressed the will to hold fresh talks with arch-foe Iran about Iraq.
However, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed that “Iran’s continued behavior … is leading to further instability in Iraq,” and said any new talks “would not be a negotiation.”