President Bush could make peace between Israel and Palestine if, in the next two years, he would devote all his powers and political currency to this problem. So claimed Aaron Miller, one of four panelists, celebrating the 35th anniversary of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam with a discussion of long term prospects for peaceful coexistence.
Aaron Miller devoted 25 years in the State Department working under six secretaries of state and every president from Carter to Bush so he should know whereof he speaks. Unfortunately President Bush is hogtied in Iraq. He should have followed President Clinton’s Herculean efforts to bring the parties together at Camp David and Taba in the first two years of his reign, instead of neglecting it until the last two years.
People think that at Camp David, Ehud Barak made a generous proposal and the parties were this close, Miller said cupping his hands together. In reality they were this wide apart, he said stretching his hands out. There was no compromise on Jerusalem, refugees, borders or any other difficult question.
President Clinton had a firm grasp of all the nuances in dealing with Arabs and Jews, Miller said. His problem was that he was not tough enough.
At Camp David, we put a paper on the table, Miller explained without going into details. Someone objected and we took it off the table and presented another paper. We did that 29 times, he said with some passion emphasizing 29 times. He probably remembered his sleepless nights when he was writing a new proposal only to see it rejected the next day.
Nineteen times corrected Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis, who was also at Camp David. He moderated the panel.
Seated next to Miller was Khalil Jahshan, past president of the National Association of Arab Americans. He summed up the discussion succinctly: “To make peace, you need brains and you must carry a two-by-four.”
The two other panelists were Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Sadat Professor for Peace at the University of Maryland, and Robert Satloff, Director of the Washington Institute. Both lauded the schools at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the School for Peace and the bilingual/ bicultural primary school for Jewish and Arab children. The children will lead the way to peace, they said.
Bush, had he set his mind to it, could probably have advanced the peace process like his father did. But he had a private agenda in office–to avenge Saddam Hussein’s assassination attempt on his father and to show that he could do better than his father by getting rid of Saddam. He also saw Clinton devote six months to the peace process with very little to show for it in political payoff. In fact, usually the political payoff from the peace process is negative as Carter found out in 1980. Neither Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, or Bush I had any postivie gains from having worked on the peace process in electoral terms. Bush II was focused on electoral gains because of his father’s failure and his very close call in 2000. To work the peace process now would mean putting pressure on Israel, which would anger his conservative base. Bush cannot afford to do that–especially when he probably sees such a small prospect of a payoff. Plus, he will be busy digging himself even deeper into a hole in Iraq.