When Bush meets Abbas

He might ask himself whether power has already shifted away from Fatah.

bush abbas 63 (photo credit: )
bush abbas 63
(photo credit: )
As President George W. Bush looks Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayad in the eye when he meets them at their headquarters in Ramallah this week, he might reflect for a passing moment on his most recent visit to the Middle East in the first days of September 2007. He then made a point of going to Anbar Province, where US forces had confronted some of the most bitter fighting of Sunni pro-Saddam Hussein loyalists against the American presence in Iraq since the liberation of the country in 2003. As he looks Abbas in the eye, he might recall his historic meeting with Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha - the former foe and recently reformed ally of the US Marines in Iraq. As he tries to fathom the real and practical power of the president of the Palestinian Authority, he might remember the warm words he rightly showered on his new comrade in arms - the leader of the "Anbar Awakening" which was turning the scales in the war against the forces of al-Qaida still wreaking death and destruction in Iraq. Within 10 days of that historic and unusual event, Sheikh Abdul Sattar was dead, falling in the struggle led by President Bush; he was killed by Muslims just as the holy month of Ramadan was to begin. As President Bush surveys the scene and seeks allies - even temporary and unsavory ones - in the momentous battle he is leading against fanaticism and deadly hate characterizing Islamic international terror, he might turn to his Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who looked on approvingly when he and Sheikh Abdul Sattar shook hands, and receive from him his reading of the necessarily devious path that the United States had taken since the 1980s when the Reagan administration extended key aid to Saddam Hussein in his eight-long-years war against Iran. Gates, then a highly respected and competent CIA deputy director for intelligence, would surely tell the president what considerations at the time prompted the administration to turn a blind eye to the excesses of Saddam Hussein, including his use of chemical weaponry. AS PRESIDENT Bush sits in Ramallah, by far the most important leg of his trip to the Holy Land, he might ask himself and his team whether the policy he has been pursuing can get him the results he desires. He surely must have been told that the most recent terrorist events in the West Bank were perpetrated by persons who adhere to the camp of his hosts, who are still powerless to exercise discipline and authority both within their ranks and in the territory, albeit a very small portion, to which they aspire. Maybe another troubling thought will pass thought the president's mind as he sips coffee offered by his Ramallah hosts - that the only swathe of territory really controlled by the Palestinians is where his hosts cannot take him. Gaza is still out of bounds to the president of the Palestinian Authority and its prime minister. As he looks into the tired and weary eyes of his hosts, the president might feel a yearning for the likes of Sheikh Abdul Sattar or even President Musharraf, whom he extolled even after the sad murder of Benazir Bhutto. THE PRESIDENT of the United States is a man of great vision and admirably lofty morals, but he also has his feet firmly on the ground and has shown a unique capacity to change course when expedient and wise and to avail himself and the mightiest power in the world of tactical opportunities that could serve the aims of the leader of the free world. So when President George W. Bush rises and leaves Ramallah, he will hopefully ask himself and his aides whether the people he just met are really capable of supporting him in his ultimate tests of courage and leadership - in his noble and vital struggle against international Islamic terror, and in his historic stand against the challenge that Iran is now posing to him and to the entire world of moderation and democracy. He might ask himself whether power has already shifted away from Fatah to Hamas, and whether, therefore, his vital struggle against terror is better served by continuing to ignore Hamas, and to wish it away, or by engagement - by encouraging Hamas toward the responsible governance of the Palestinian public that voted for it. President Bush, so it is said, will come again to the region on or around the 60th Independence Day of Israel. Maybe he should also set his sights on visiting Gaza on that occasion? If the president's hosts in Ramallah cannot pull this off, if they cannot get a handle on their own men, maybe this is a time to recall the thinking that brought the president and Sheikh Abdul Sattar together. There are "command decisions" that only a strong political master can make. Over the last year the president has made several of them, fearlessly and most wisely. Can we hope for one more? The writer is a former head of the Mossad.