Media Mention of Ghaith al-Omari in The Washington Post - March 3, 2008 - 1:00am

Ghaith al-Omari, a former adviser to Abbas and now advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine, faulted the Bush administration for not nurturing a process that it started. He noted that the administration has appointed three generals to assess various aspects of the issue, but that few people in the region understand their roles. Rice's two-day visit this week is her first substantive trip since the conference in November.

"There is no push from the Americans," he said. "We are still waiting to see what they will do. It is surprising how little has happened. If you guys are going to run out of steam, why create all these expectations?"

"It is a big question mark," said Martin Indyk, director of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. "The impression one gets is that this administration is out of juice."

Most observers give the administration six months, until the Democratic and Republican conventions, to show that progress on the peace talks is possible. But the Annapolis conference has been increasingly overshadowed by the conflict over Gaza.

The Annapolis talks were designed to bolster Abbas so he could overcome the challenge from Hamas. In 2006, the militant group unexpectedly won Palestinian elections that the Bush administration had supported, beating Abbas's Fatah party, and a unity government between the two sides went sour when Hamas seized control of Gaza last June. The administration had hoped that if Abbas could seal a peace deal, it would give him the popular support to oust Hamas, which has called for Israel's destruction.

Neither Hamas nor Iran was invited to Annapolis but, as Ahmadinejad's courting of Mubarak suggests, the administration's effort to divide the region into "moderate" and "extremist" camps has not succeeded. After the phone call between the two men, Iran's foreign minister declared that diplomatic ties with Cairo would soon be restored.


Meanwhile, Hamas has gained popularity as Israel has attempted an economic blockade of Gaza. Hamas bulldozers burst through the Gaza-Egyptian border in January, while Hamas rockets last week reached Ashkelon, an Israeli city of 120,000 that generally had been safe from Hamas attacks.

Egypt would like to arrange a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas while giving the Palestinian Authority control over border crossings, Arab diplomats said. But those would be difficult negotiations as public pressure increases in Israel for a ground invasion of Gaza. In the best-case scenario for Israel, that would wipe out Hamas's leadership, but it could also prove as vexing as Israel's war against Hezbollah in 2006.

Some argue that Hamas's strength can no longer be ignored. Before the Annapolis conference, a group of U.S. foreign policy specialists -- including former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton -- wrote Bush to argue that "a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation." But State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Friday, "It's pretty hard to say that Hamas has a legitimate role to play in this process if their main policy is to promote terror."


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