Analysis: Possible Mideast Push by Bush

The Associated Press
Sunday, November 25, 2007; 4:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush once talked bullishly about Middle East peacemaking. He would "ride herd" on recalcitrant leaders, picking up the telephone whenever necessary and helping produce a long-elusive agreement.

In truth, Bush has been more a sporadic speaker than engaged enforcer during his seven years in office.

This week's peace conference is an effort by his administration to step more deeply into trying to help settle one of the world's most intractable conflicts. Two key questions are how much Bush himself will become involved and how much good he could do during the final year in the White House after a hands-off history.

Past presidents staked much on the Middle East; some even achieved encouraging results. But after decades of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, there is no resolution to the Palestinians' desire for an independent state.

President Carter's 1978 Camp David sessions led to a peace treaty the following year between Israel and Egypt. A 1991 Mideast peace conference in Madrid, Spain, which was sponsored by the first President Bush and the Russians, paved the way for the Oslo peace accords and establishment of the Palestinian Authority. President Clinton brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Wye River in Queenstown, Md., in 1998; at Camp David in July 2000; and in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 _ all to no avail.

For a host of reasons, Bush has behaved differently.

There was his inclination to discard all things Clinton, coupled with the recognition that past intensive efforts, including the Clinton-sponsored sessions that broke off just before Bush became president, had not paid off. The Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war drew the bulk of the White House's attention.

Then there is Bush's personal temperament and a business-school taught management style. He prefers to focus on establishing a grand vision and trusting details to subordinates.

"Hands off would be an understatement," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator. He now heads the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation and the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation.

Nathan Brown, a Mideast expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "What's remarkable is the extent to which he's been disengaged, with only episodic parachuting in with absolutely no follow-up."

To Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bush strikes him "as someone who closes deals, not someone who painstakingly sets them up. Mideast peace needs to be painstakingly set up. ... Making a statement is one thing, but cajoling, prodding and nudging are just as important."

Whether it is the Mideast or cherished domestic legislation, the president tends to rely more on the bully pulpit than on back-room dealing.

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