There is a strange disconnect between the new consensus that has developed in Washington about the need to engage in Middle East peacemaking and the reality on the ground that seems certain to render such efforts futile. But in the Middle East, things are never what they seem. Ground that looks on the surface to be arid may in fact contain the seeds of a new Israeli-Arab peace partnership. If properly nurtured by a newly engaged Secretary of State, backed by a supportive Congress they can yet yield the fruits of reconciliation. However, it will take lowered expectations, a tolerance for complexity, and, above all, sustained attention for this effort to produce results.
For six years, the Bush Administration has resisted the notion that peacemaking in the Middle East could advantage American interests there. Early on, President Bush reached the judgment that his predecessor’s efforts were a waste of time. The words “Middle East peace process” were literally banned from the State Department’s lexicon. Instead, transformation in the Middle East was to take place on the Bush Administration’s watch not through peacemaking but through regime change and democratization. Six years later, the President’s strategy is in deep trouble, and there is now a new receptivity in Washington to relaunching the Middle East peace process.