Monday, September 18, 2006

Bush, Rice To Revive Mideast Peace Process

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
As President Bush prepares for his annual address before the U.N. General Assembly this week, the State Department is getting ready to re-energize the long dormant Arab-Israeli peace process. The new emphasis on land for peace negotiations is a ploy to entice wavering European and Arab allies to hold a firm line on Iranian nuclear ambitions and the global war on terrorism.

To that end, Secretary of State Rice will attend a special U.N. Security Council session on Wednesday to discuss a negotiations process that has been stalled since the victory of Hamas in January's Palestinian Arab elections.

The decision to attend the meeting is a reversal for the State Department, which privately signaled to allies earlier this month that it would not participate in the session. It is also a concession to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which in the last month have pressed for a new peace plan. READ MORE

The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, also is scheduled to meet with President Bush on Tuesday and with the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, at the U.N. General Assembly this week. Aides to Mr. Abbas said yesterday that negotiations over a national unity government with Hamas have reached an impasse.

At the assembly, Mr. Bush is expected to unveil a new package of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority to address shortages in Gaza in the aftermath of this summer's armed conflict, which started when Hamas gunmen kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

A senior adviser to Ms. Rice, Philip Zelikow, explained the new emphasis on the peace process at the opening session of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's annual conference on Friday.

"For the Arab moderates and the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is the sine qua non for them to cooperate actively with the United States on the things that we care about," Mr. Zelikow said.

"We can rail against that belief; we can find it completely justifiable. It is a fact," he added. "That means an active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems."

Mr. Zelikow, who was the executive director of the 9/11 commission before joining the State Department in Mr. Bush's second term, did not specify how far the new emphasis on the peace process will go. But other administration officials and allied diplomats said yesterday and Saturday that the State Department envisions a broad process that may include pushing for a new peace conference similar to the one President George H.W. Bush helped organize in Madrid following the 1991 Gulf War.

Indeed, the issue of an international peace summit came up last Wednesday, when Ms. Livni met with President George W. Bush. According to an official familiar with the notes of the exchange, Ms. Livni told the president that a new peace conference was not necessary in light of the existing peace plan forged in 2002, known as the road map.

The link between a peace process for Israel and preventing Iran's mullahs from obtaining a nuclear weapon is novel for both America and the Jewish state. Ms. Rice herself has boasted over the last two years of Europe's commitment, in particular, to eventually endorsing the sanctions she and Mr. Bush will seek this week at the United Nations on Iran for its insistence on uranium enrichment.

"From a policy sense, it is unclear whether we should tie contributions from our allies on Iran and other goals to progress on the Israel-Palestinian front," the executive director of the Washington Institute, Robert Satloff, said.

In its most consistent form, such a policy could give "radical Palestinian elements a chance to undermine our efforts against Iran," he added.

In December 2005, the Hamas politburo chief, Khaled Meshaal, raised such a link on a visit to Tehran when he threatened to attack Israel if Israel strikes Iran's nuclear enrichment sites.

Uzi Dayan, a former deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force and the nephew of the Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan, put it more bluntly than Mr. Satloff.

"I see no way that moving on the peace process will prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability. It does not mean we don't have to do it ourselves for other reasons, but I don't see how it prevents Iran from doing anything," Mr. Dayan said.

Mr. Satloff, who was an advocate of the Oslo process in the 1990s, said he is also skeptical about the possibility of restarting the peace process through atmospherics.

"The record of the past demonstrates that there are no shortcuts in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace," he said. Mr. Satloff pointed out that key issues have not been resolved, including the basis for negotiations: whether Israel can accept a government that includes Hamas — whose charter seeks the annihilation of Israel — as a true partner, and what the two sides will discuss.

While the road map envisions an eventual conference to discuss "final status issues" such as the municipal borders of Jerusalem and the contours of a Palestinian Arab state, it also says those issues should not be broached so long as Israelis face terrorism and other confidence-building measures have not been met.

Despite early enthusiasm from a former secretary of state, Colin Powell, implementing the road map has not been a high priority for the Bush administration, particularly since 2005, when Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza.