The Israeli Prime Minister was in Washington today and his press conference with President Bush was a bizarre affair. It all sounded a lot like "thou dost protest too much" as both men tried to put a positive take on a policy which saw its wheels spin off just days ago. The President seemed to find great excitement in being confronted with yet another Middle East policy failure. President Bush managed to mention "exciting" no less than three times in his short on-camera Q&A with Olmert. I would humbly suggest he finds other ways to get his kicks. There is nothing "exciting" about the woeful state of affairs in the region -- what is required is a hard-headed rethink, not boyish enthusiasm.
As predicted on this blog and elsewhere, the two leaders began to roll out their new/old approach on the Fatah, West Bank spiel I have referred to previously. Interestingly, the President described the situation in stark ideological terms, as a "monumental" "ideological" struggle -- precisely what Israel has worked hard to avoid all these years.
Yes, for a minority of Islamists this is a struggle to the death and no compromise can be contemplated, but for the vast majority of Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians, this particular conflict is still about a specific grievance (the occupation and lack of Palestinian statehood) -- and it can be resolved along the 1967 lines. Israel would do well to sit out the holy wars of the current President and his neocon buddies.
PM Olmert might also look to part of what the President is actually doing in Iraq, rather than sign up to the more grandiose good vs. evil rhetoric. In Iraq, the US is talking to, working with, and even arming a very broad network of potential allies who oppose Al Qaeda -- including former insurgents with American blood on their hands and people who are dead set against the US occupation of Iraq. That's how you maximize your potential allies and reduce your adversaries to a more manageable minimum.
Israel should adopt a similar approach with the Palestinians. That means engaging, probably indirectly, with Hamas. Israel has done this in the past and Hamas has proven to be a more reliable adherent to ceasefires than elements of the Fatah militia.
Rob Malley and Aaron Miller have more on this in today's Washington Post.