WASHINGTON - Three days before he announced that he was dropping out of the presidential race, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition, and succinctly summed up his opinion on the Bush administration's moves toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "It's time we looked at other ideas."
If it were up to him, the administration would not go to Annapolis, and would not waste time on talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Brownback supports, at least to some extent, the annexation program put forth by MK Benny Elon (National Union).
The ideas championed by a few of the major lights of the Republican Party are not necessarily new, or "other." An irony of fate: While the Bush administration is attempting to prove that it has changed direction and is now putting its time and energy into the peace process after neglecting it for some years, the party's candidates want to distance themselves from the president's position and to return to the ideas that underscored its policy during his first years in the White House.
The new Bush is going to Annapolis, but the voice of the old Bush is issuing from the mouths of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, and in effect from all the top-shelf Republican candidates with the exception of Senator John McCain of Arizona. His position is similar to Bush's, and perhaps even more similar to that of Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.
The great revolution that Bush brought to the Israeli-Arab arena was grounded on a change in thinking: All of his predecessors in the White House from Truman to Clinton viewed the conflict as the fundamental problem of the Middle East. Solve the conflict and the region will be changed entirely: from the particular to the general. Bush was the first to flip the pyramid on its head: Change the region and the conflict will more or less solve itself. As someone put it, Bush wants to go to Jerusalem by way of Baghdad rather than to Baghdad via Jerusalem.
Bush no longer behaves as though he believes what he he once did. Perhaps he was persuaded by the arguments of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, perhaps he was worn out by heavy international pressure, or maybe he's just pretending. Either way, his administration now is talking and behaving like their predecessors, in a manner that is acceptable to most of the the foreign policy establishment of the United States: It views solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the key to dealing with other regional issues.
That's how it is for Bush and his emissaries, but not his successors in the Republican Party. The leader in the polls, Giuliani, has already distanced himself from Bush's efforts, in an article he published two months ago in Foreign Affairs. In it, he argued that the establishment of a Palestinian state is not in the U.S. interests, and that too much effort is being invested in that direction. Last week, in his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Giuliani declared: "We don't need to create another terrorist state." The GOP's No. 2 candidate, former Massachusetts governor Romney, also sounded like a convert to the revolutionary line of the early Bush.
There are two different camps when it comes to American thinking regarding the problems of the Middle East, Romney told his audience. There are the "liberals," not a complimentary term coming from him, who believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of the problems, but "we're right and they're wrong," he declared. "We" in this context are those who know that the radicals who want a jihad are the heart of the region's problems. When Romney and the other Republican candidates spoke about the Annapolis summit, they proposed using the utmost caution - it was not a demonstration of support for Rice's efforts on the eve of a regional peace conference.
And so it is that a gap has opened up on this issue between Bush's party and his administration. If the administration steps up the pressure on Israel, it will not have the support of most of the Republican candidates for the party's presidential nomination. That is a reason for those who oppose the peace process to wait for the next administration - but there is a risk: Currently it appears that the next administration will be a Democratic one.
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