President Bush’s “road map” first emerged as the US began preparing to invade Iraq. Key Arab regimes had long made clear to Washington that the price of even tacit support for the war was American willingness to address a conflict that generated immense hostility towards the US on the Arab street. The “road map” read like a crack of the whip, outlining a timetable that promised a provisional Palestinian state by the end of 2003 and a resolution of all final status issues by the beginning of 2005. But the Bush administration gave the Israelis and Palestinians no reason to take it seriously; its purely symbolic purpose was plain to see.
The Bush administration made a second high-profile stab at the peace process in the form of the Annapolis Conference held in November 2007, which drew in not only the Israelis and Palestinians, but also a range of Arab states – in what it portrayed as a symbolic affirmation of the administration’s policy of building an alliance of Arab moderates with the US and Israel against the region’s radicals, namely Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran. Again, there was little reason for the Israelis or Palestinians to take the process seriously. Annapolis simply invited them to talk among themselves about what a peace agreement could look like. The conversation went nowhere, of course, but the fact that it was happening at all was the point for the Bush administration, whose new priority had become rallying Arab support against Iran and its allies.
So what does any of this have to with the US president Barack Obama’s own efforts to jump start the peace process? After all, Mr Obama made it a priority from the get-go of his presidency and can hardly be accused of going through the motions in order to mollify the Arabs to win their support on other issues. Or can he? [continued…]