By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2008
The White House made it official yesterday: There will be no Middle East peace pact on President Bush's watch.
The long-shot effort by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been written off months ago by many analysts in both the region and the United States, but the White House had insisted that a deal remained possible. Yesterday, however, just two days after Barack Obama was elected president, officials confirmed that they will leave the issue to the new president.
"We do not think that it's likely that it would happen before the end of the year," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, echoing comments made by Rice during a Middle East swing this week.
With great fanfare almost a year ago, Bush convened a summit of Arab and Israeli leaders in Annapolis to launch a new round of peace talks. The effort came rather late in Bush's tenure; the president had disdained the nitty-gritty of Middle East peacemaking through much of his presidency.
After the summit, Rice made nearly monthly trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories to encourage the two sides in their efforts, though she never appeared to be a hands-on negotiator. She also appointed three U.S. generals to assist with building up Palestinian security forces, to assess whether the two sides were meeting their commitments and to consider long-term security needs in a peace deal.
But the results were fairly opaque. Israeli and Palestinian officials said the talks were frank and open, but a written outline of an agreement never emerged. The work of the generals remained largely hidden from public review; one report said to be highly critical of Israel was never released.
The process was hampered by the fact that the chief Palestinian negotiator -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- did not control the territory of Gaza, where nearly half of Palestinians live, because it was seized by the rival Hamas faction. Hopes for a deal further dimmed when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had to resign because of a corruption scandal and his successor could not form a government, forcing new elections in February.
But Rice insisted the effort was not for naught. "I am so confident that the Annapolis process that was launched, now less than a year ago, is an extraordinary breakthrough in the history of this conflict," she told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday.