By Akiva Eldar for Ha'aretz
Heavy clouds will float over today's summit in sunny Sharm el-Sheikh. The Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, Jordan and Egypt will be hovering above the four leaders participating in the talks, as will the zealots of worldwide jihad. Iran and Hezbollah will be with them on the other side, while the extreme right-wing national religious camp awaits in the corner. It is hard to say which of the leaders' chairs is shakiest and to guess where the next evil will come from - from Syria, which once again has remained on the outside; from Al-Qaida, which is rearing its head in Iraq and casting its eye on the horizon; or from the Egyptian opposition, which smells weakness in the leadership and is amassing power in anticipation of the inheritance battle.
And who isn't coming to this sad party? The United States, the superpower with the lion's share of responsibility for the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. Who stayed home? President George W. Bush, the one whose semi-hallucinatory dream of democratization has become a genuine reality of anarchy; whose adopted vision of two states - Israel and Palestine - has become during his tenure a distant dream. It is difficult to think of an American president who has caused more damage to Israeli interests than the president who is considered one of the friendliest to Israel of all time. No leader has done more than Bush - by commission as well as omission - to destroy the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.
It was Bush who imposed the wretched elections on the Palestinians, despite Hamas' refusal to fulfill the terms of the Oslo II Accords concerning the participation of political parties in the democratic process. Bush gave his blessing to sacrificing the road map on the altar of unilateral disengagement, an act of charity toward the Palestinian "refusal front" and a death blow to the already damaged peace camp.
When Hamas was dragged into the unity government and the cease-fire agreement, with great effort, the Bush administration spared no effort to defeat the new alliance. And now, after cooking up the stew, Bush is leaving his "friends" to eat it alone, while exhorting the use of obsolete tricks to raise the dead, such as removing checkpoints in the West Bank and releasing Palestinian prisoners. The two-state vision will have to wait for the next president. What's the rush?
It's a good thing Bush wasn't around 30 years ago, when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat decided the time had come to end the war with Israel and regain the Sinai Peninsula. Bush would probably have recused himself, saying something like, "they can handle their own negotiations with Egypt. If the prime minister wants to negotiate with Egypt, he doesn't need me to mediate," as the leader of the free world said after his meeting last week with Ehud Olmert, with regard to the U.S. stance on promoting a peace process with Syria.
There is no way of knowing how Israel and the entire Middle East would look today had former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, considered problematic for Israel, sent Sadat off to work things out for himself with prime minister Menachem Begin instead of inviting them both to the peace summit at Camp David.
American intervention was one of the primary considerations leading to the Egyptian, Palestinian and Jordanian decision to reach a diplomatic settlement with Israel. Bashar Assad knocked on Bush's door and asked him to send a representative to talks with Israel, despite America's overt declarations concerning their special relationship with Israel and their commitment to its qualitative superiority. The U.S. president's shrugging off of responsibility for the peace process that began in Madrid in 1991, under his father's baton, ruined one of Israel's most important strategic assets: the belief, which bought a grace period from its neighbors, that the only place that was selling tickets to Washington and the right to enjoy its favors was in Jerusalem.
Officials in Olmert's government are sighing in great relief over the lowering of the American profile. To understand the depth of these leanings, one must go to Damascus. Vice President Farouk Shara interpreted Bush's statements using the following harsh, but accurate, words: "The American president does not want peace between Israel and Syria." Israeli intelligence officials are already warning that the opposite of peace is imminent war between Israel and Syria. This means that Bush is refusing to help prevent another round of blood-letting. What an outcry would erupt here were he to refuse to aid us by shipping a cannon or a helicopter over, and sending us out alone with the Arabs to handle the next war.