As I write these lines, President Bush is on his way out of Israel, headed for Saudi Arabia, having just concluded one of the more anti-climactic visits to Jerusalem that I can recall.
When this second Presidential visit to Israel within 4 months was announced in early 2008, it was looked upon as a potential milestone event, a key marker in the timeline for peace that began back in Annapolis, MD on November 27.
Indeed, while Meretz USA supporters stood alongside our progressive Zionist friends in the Maryland capital that day, registering our continued belief in the peace process, the American President was promising Israelis and Palestinians a fully committed US diplomatic effort: "President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert," he told the peoples through their leaders, "I pledge to devote my effort during my time as president to do all I can to help you achieve this ambitious goal."
If we are to judge by his public statements in Israel, Mr. Bush has long since reneged on his undertaking. His address to the Knesset referred to peace in only the most utopian of language, avoiding any mention of a "flesh-and-bones" peace process. When coupled with his trite remarks at a brief press conference with Ehud Olmert, the speech reinforced the underwhelming impression left by earlier reports, which indicated that Bush would forego a three-way meeting with Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas ("This did not seem the time," we were told), and would, "not be carrying any new ideas with him when he travels to the region".
True, at a time when Israel’s Prime Minister is facing the umpteenth criminal investigation against him ("the most severe one of all", we are told), one might argue that the moment is not opportune for a major diplomatic advance. But such investigations can be no excuse for standstill – especially when one considers that every Israeli Prime Minister since Shimon Peres in 1996 has been the subject of at least one major criminal probe (go ahead, check!), and not one of them has been forced from office.
Indeed, in a week when a Grad-type Katyusha rocket slammed into a shopping mall in Ashkelon, wounding dozens, some seriously, it was sad to see an American president reciting platitudes about Hamas instead of rolling up his sleeves to help find a way out of the morass.
And at a time when settler groups continued their efforts to create annexationist facts on the ground, it was unfortunate to see a president who knows no better way to express his friendship for Israel than to stroke its ego. Mr. Bush apparently hit his mark: His words to the Knesset were warmly endorsed by Israel’s most right-wing Knesset members as an expression of solidarity with their supernationalist agenda.
Something is amiss when the right-religious bloc in Israel issues calls for George W. to replace the country’s Prime Minister. Something is wrong when an American president offers the Knesset no program more practical than "to have faith". It’s passed time for the president to do something right: To honor his pledge at Annapolis and to start doing the hard work of peace. It’s time to stop beating around the bush.