The White House 'After Party'
Wednesday, November 28, 2007; 1:18 PM
A day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas nebulously agreed to begin negotiations, President Bush is hosting them at the White House -- but not, apparently, to lean on them for concessions and to start the arduous process of hashing out peace.
Rather, in the words of White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, "it's like the after party."
Most Middle East experts agree that the chance of yesterday's summit leading to anything remotely concrete will decrease from slim to none without Bush's intense personal engagement.
But other than presidential lip service to delegates at a conference at the Naval Academy yesterday -- "I give you my personal commitment to support your work with the resources and resolve of the American government," he said-- there are scant signs that he intends to follow through.
As I wrote in Monday's column, Bush's flirtation with Middle East summitry looks more like an attempt to humor his beloved secretary of state than it does a departure from his hands-off and ardently pro-Israeli posture of the past seven years.
There were clear signs of ambivalence yesterday. Bush mangled the names of his two guests of honor, calling them "Ehud Elmo" and "Mahoomed Abbas." And, after his speech, Bush didn't even stick around for the afternoon's events.
Dark Rhetoric, But No Action?
In an interview with the Associated Press yesterday, Bush was unable to say precisely what he would do next.
Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush expressed concern Tuesday about the risk of failure in the first major Mideast peace talks in seven years, warning that could spawn a generation of radicals and extremists. Still, he said, 'It is worth it to try.' . . .
"While Bush has been criticized for standing back from Mideast peacemaking for most of his presidency, he described himself as 'very engaged, up to the moment' in bringing Israel, the Palestinians and more than 40 countries together for a conference in Annapolis, Md., to launch the first major peacemaking effort in seven years. . . .
"'A moment like today just doesn't happen. It requires work to lay the groundwork for,' Bush said. . . .
"From here on, Bush described his role in the peace process this way: 'I work the phones, I listen, I encourage, I have meetings. I do a lot of things.'
"He wouldn't say either way whether he thought he would eventually travel to Israel or the Palestinian territories to help move things along. 'We'll see. You don't have to be in a particular country to have influence over whether or not the process moves forward. But I'd like to go Israel. I'd like to go to Saudi Arabia,' Bush said."