Media Mention of Ghaith al-Omari in Washington Report On Middle East Affairs - September 1, 2008 - 12:00am

IN A JUNE 27 panel entitled “Making Sense of the Arab-Israel Nightmare” held at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, speakers discussed the lessons to be learned from past administrations and prospects for the Bush administration in its final months, as well as prospects for the next administration. Ghaith al-Omari, a former policy adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Daniel Levy, former senior policy adviser in the Israeli prime minister’s office, and Aaron Miller, author of The Much Too Promised Land, addressed the Arab-Israeli conflict largely as an inherited problem.

Miller began by saying of the current U.S. administration, in which he served under former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “I don’t think much of its diplomacy. I understand that it had an unworkable hand… [but] this administration had other priorities, bad hand or not.”

The goal, then, according to Miller, is to be Hippocratic about the next six months: to “do no harm,” and to leave the next president with something unresolved, but workable.

In order to leave behind a viable process, Levy encouraged the Bush administration to remember its ABCs (Anything But Clinton): he discouraged it from forcing through a grand but untenable agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, saying, “the United States cannot impose its political timetable on the Middle East.”

In Al-Omari’s opinion, the goal of the coming months should be simply to strengthen the process, thereby enabling it to withstand the transition.

Strengthening the process will require some focus on the situation on the ground, he elaborated. The Israelis must show their serious commitment to resolving the problem, Al-Omari argued, by imposing a settlement freeze, while Palestinian responsibility will lie in security. Short of such significant acts of good faith are confidence-building measures, such as prisoner releases and opening some Jerusalem institutions, which are easy to implement and, if timed correctly, create an ongoing sense of progress.

And when progress is being made, added Levy, as in the case of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, America must “let [it] breathe.” That seemed an apt catchphrase for the light-handed approach promoted by the whole panel for the final six months of the Bush administration. President Bush, the panelists agreed, should leave as his legacy the chance for the next president to succeed. In human life, explained Miller, “the most compelling ideology is success…No president is going to want to take this on if he inherits a disaster.”

Either way, however, Levy cautioned the future president, “You’re sucked in. Either the Middle East sets the agenda for you or you set the agenda for it. I suggest the latter.”


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