Low hopes for Bush Mideast trip
He'll celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary, but meet with Israel's Olmert and Palestinian territories' Abbas separately.
The pageantry of President Bush's trip to the Middle East this week is sure to be impressive. On May 15, he'll tour the ancient fortress of Masada, then commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel with an address to the Knesset. The next day he'll travel to Saudi Arabia to help mark the 75th anniversary of formal US-Saudi relations. He'll meet with Saudi King Abdallah at the king's farm.Skip to next paragraph
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The substance of the journey, however, is unlikely to live up to the White House's once-high expectations. Last year, the White House tried to jump-start the Middle East peace process by hosting Israeli and Palestinian leaders at an Annapolis, MD., conference. Today, there seems little chance that Bush will help deliver an outline for real Israeli-Palestinian peace before he leaves office.
"It's hard to remember a less auspicious time to pursue Arab-Israeli peacemaking than right now. The politics on the ground are absolutely miserable," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), at a recent seminar.
Bush was set to leave Washington for the Mideast trip, his second in four months, on Tuesday evening. He will arrive in Israel early in the morning on Wednesday, local time.
When the US president arrives in the region, he will find that the leaders who would have to deliver an agreement are weak at home in varying degrees, meaning it may be difficult for them to agree to any necessary concessions. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is enmeshed in a corruption scandal that could result in his ouster. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas faces a threat from the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Abbas "can't make a peace deal in the name of all Palestinians if he can't speak for all Palestinians, and the split between Gaza and the West Bank means that he cannot," said Mr. Alterman.
For his part, Mr. Bush has only a few months left in office, meaning that officials in the region are starting to look past the Bush administration to whatever new team the November elections will bring.
Frustrated Palestinians in particular may believe that a new Democratic administration – particularly one headed by Barack Obama – might lean more in their direction.