For an Excellent Account

of the competing agendas and perceptions of Congressional Republicans, U.S. military commanders in Iraq (and President Bush), and the Pentagon (including Robert Gates and CentCom commander Adm. William Fallon), read Friday’s article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Gap Widens Over Iraq Approach,” by Greg Jaffe and Yochi Dreazen. If you don’t have a web subscription to the Journal, this article may be worth the price of a newsstand copy if the Friday edition is still available.

I would note that this has been a banner week for foreign-policy coverage by the Journal’s staff reporters. Wednesday’s article by Jay Solomon in Washington and Zahid Hussain in Islamabad, entitled “U.S. Sounds Alarm on al Qaeda Moves,” about the implications for Pakistan of the latest NIE and Cam Simpson’s report from Jerusalem Tuesday, entitled “Bush Pins Peace Hopes on Fatah,” which, unlike other mainstream media, reported on Hamas’ rising popularity in the West Bank and the desertion of Abbas by some of his most-longstanding supporters, were outstanding examples of how to combine fast-breaking news with incisive analysis.

It’s coverage like that that makes you thankful there has been such a strong wall between the Journal’s news staff and its neo-conservative editorial page whose columns too often suggest that their authors either haven’t read the paper’s news pages or don’t believe what they read in them. That the Wall could very well weaken if the proposed sale to Rupert Murdoch goes through is something that all who value the Journal’s news reporting should fear.

Speaking of the Journal’s editorial page, Wednesday’s op-ed by Michael Oren, “The Bush Doctrine Lives,” makes abundantly clear how much the Bush administration has strayed from any semblance of honest brokerhood vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Unlike the news articles, this op-ed can be accessed through the link.) Of course, Oren is a fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalem Center, a think tank closely associated with former Prime Minister and Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu and co-founded by Ronald Lauder, the right-wing philanthropist who was recently elected president of the World Jewish Congress. Lauder, a long-time supporter of the Center, serves on its Foundation Board along with, among others, Bill Kristol, the editor of Murdoch’s Weekly Standard. Other prominent names linked to the Center include frequent Standard contributor David Gelernter; Bush’s “democracy” guru, Natan Sharansky See my blog entries on his Prague conference last month here and here; and Rudy Giuliani’s new Middle East expert, Martin Kramer. I digress.

In his column, Oren, whose politics are of a decidedly Likudist bent, positively exults over Bush’s new initiative, announced Monday, to promote a two-state solution. “Mr. Bush has not backtracked an inch from his revolutionary Middle East policy,” according to Oren. “Never before has any American president placed the onus of demonstrating a commitment to peace so emphatically on Palestinian shoulders.”

“According to Mr. Bush,” Oren correctly points, “the Palestinians can only achieve statehood by first stopping all attacks against Israel, freeing captured Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and ridding the Palestinian Authority of corruption. They must also detach themselves from the invidious influence of Syria and Iran…” (In other words, statehood will be impossible “until the Palestinians turn into Finns,” as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s adviser, Dov Weisglas told Ari Shavit some years ago.)

“In addition to the prerequisites for the Palestinians, Mr. Bush set unprecedented conditions for Arab participation in peace efforts …by ending anti-Semitic incitement in their media and dropping the fiction of Israel’s non-existence. More dramatically, Mr. Bush called on those Arab governments that have yet to establish relations with Israel to recognize its right to exist and to authorize ministerial missions to the Jewish state,” Oren chortled, noting that Bush has “effectively reversed the process, set out in the 1993 Oslo Accords, whereby the Palestinians would obtain statehood immediately and only later engage in institution building …by insisting that the Palestinians first construct durable and transparent institutions before attaining independence…”

Remarkably, Oren believes that the plan won’t work for a number of reasons, including the inability of the Abu Mazen-appointed government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to root out corruption and disarm militias, the likely refusal of Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, to recognize Israel as a pre-condition to peace talks, and the ability of “Iran and Syria and their Hamas proxies” to subvert any progress. But this does not appear to trouble Oren who apparently feels, like Weisglas, that Palestinian statehood can and should be postponed indefinitely, or at least until Palestinians become Finns.

As noted by the participants at a Nixon Center discussion of the plan here Tuesday, major sections of the speech could have – and may well have been – drafted by the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, if not the Shalem Center, or, closer to home perhaps, by the White House’s top Middle East aide, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams who, it is worth noting, reassured U.S. Jewish leaders in a conference call Thursday that the international conference proposed by Bush in his Monday address for some time this fall will be confined strictly to funding for Palestinian institution building will not deal with final-status issues, such as borders, Jerusalem or refugees that might offer the kind of “political horizon” that Condoleezza Rice has been talking so much about. Indeed, despite all her talk, a “political horizon” – hedged as it is by so many new preconditions, as well as Washington’s opposition to anyone engaging Hamas in Gaza — is perhaps less visible today than even five years ago when Bush first endorsed the idea of a two-state solution. And the fact that Bush nominated Rice (rather than himself) as the chair of the proposed international conference tends to confirm both that his initiative lacks seriousness and that Abrams in the White House remains at least as powerful on issues directly relating to Israel than Rice at State.

For more on the state of play on Bush’s initiative, as well as U.S. support for Abu Mazen and its policy of isolating Hamas, I strongly recommend several recent analyses, including, one by M.J. Rosenberg at the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) in which he calls for final-status negotiations now; the latest blog entry, also published by the ‘Guardian Online’, by Daniel Levy of the Century and New America Foundations; and longer essays, particularly one published earlier this month in the ‘London Review of Books’ by Alastair Crooke; and another by Tony Karon published by entitled “Yes, Bush is Naked, What of It?”.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.