Analyze This: Why the Bush vision of peace is still somewhere over the rainbow

The US president sometimes confuses rhetoric with reality.

bush abbas 298.88 (photo credit: )
bush abbas 298.88
(photo credit: )
To allow President George W. Bush the opportunity to get an optimal view from his King David Hotel suite of the sun rising over Jerusalem, the municipality thoughtfully arranged for the floodlights that regularly illuminate the walls of the Old City to be shut off earlier than usual, just before daybreak. Alas, the president woke up on Thursday morning to the sight of a thick fog blanketing the city that not only grounded his planned helicopter trip to Ramallah, but also blocked any chance of a scenic sunrise view from his window. That's how it is sometimes in this city, where grand visions often fail to match up with a more murky reality. Bush has talked plenty about "vision" during this visit - in fact, it's far and away the word he's used the most. Sometimes it's just in the general sense of attaining a peaceful solution to the conflict, such as in this declaration at Wednesday's press conference: "I believe that two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace is in the best interests of America and the world. I believe it's in the long-term security interests of Israel, and I know, to provide a more hopeful society for the Palestinians. And that's why I articulated this vision early in my presidency. And that's why I'm so pleased to have - to watch two leaders, you and President Abbas, work hard to achieve that vision. It's in the interests of all of us that that vision come to be." Bush, though, has gone beyond defining "vision" simply in terms of a goal to be achieved. In his, ummm, vision, "vision" is also a means of attaining that peace agreement, a concrete part of the process itself. It's why he has dubbed the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over a final-status settlement as the "vision track." Although this process is to run concurrently with the other peace-process tracks - implementation of the road map and the building of Palestinian institutions and economy - Bush expects it to move forward totally independent of those processes, and even of any other realities on the ground, be they terror attacks, Kassam rockets, the expansion of Jewish Jerusalem, domestic political upheavals, or foreign provocations on the part of Iran or anyone else. Once that final-status vision is achieved, the US president seems to believe it will also provide answers to some of the other concrete problems that pose obstacles to the implementation of that vision. For example, asked this week how a two-state solution can be implemented while Hamas controls Gaza, Bush responded, "There's three tracks going on during this process. One is the vision track. Let me make sure everybody understands, in our delegation, the goal. The goal is for there to be a clear vision of what a state would look like, so that, for example, reasonable Palestinian leadership can say, here's your choice: You can have the vision of Hamas, which is dangerous and will lead to war and violence, or you can have the vision of a state, which should be hopeful." US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was more specific, saying "When the people of Gaza are presented with this vision, they can make a choice and invite the Palestinian Authority back in to administer Gaza." Really? Entranced by a final-status agreement that involves painful concessions, the people of Gaza somehow "invite" Fatah back, and Hamas and its radical Islamic allies simply lay down their arms and pass on power peacefully to Mahmoud Abbas? Unfortunately, the problem with those Palestinians who oppose a two-state solution isn't that they lack a vision of a Palestinian state - it's that they lack a vision for a Jewish state existing alongside it. If simply attaining a vision of a final two-state agreement were all, or even most, of what was needed to bring peace, than the Clinton Camp David proposal, or the Geneva Initiative, would have had far more influence on the situation here than they have had so far (which is none). This isn't to say that having a vision of peace isn't a good or necessary thing. But it is naïve, or disingenuous, to think it can be implemented, or can even move the process of implementation forward, without first changing some of the current harsh realities on the ground. And all this, of course, is predicated on the belief that two very weak leaders of two shaky governments can arrive at the vision sometime in the next year. Bush is to be commended for his sincere belief in the power of a vision of peace, and on his dedication this week to try to make it happen. During his time in the White House, though, he has sometimes confused rhetoric with reality, and overestimated the power of simply having a vision - such as "Bringing democracy to the Middle East" - with the ability to make it actually happen. It is all too appropriate that when Bush was feted at Beit Hanassi this week, he was greeted with a children's chorus singing: "Somewhere over the rainbow/Skies are blue/And the dreams that you dare to dream/Really do come true." It's nice, and right, to dream, especially of peace. But as the US president saw this week in Jerusalem, sometimes the skies here are not blue - and when you're not in Kansas anymore, or in the Wonderful Land of Oz, dreams and visions shouldn't be confused with reality. [email protected]