With a few bland words -- "this Sunday I will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where I will meet with Prime Minister Olmert and his leadership and with President Abbas and his team"--U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week linked her office not just to one summer's crisis but also to the careers and reputations of those who preceded her in high office.
Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Baker, Madeleine Albright and others found themselves dragged into the business of trying to bring peace to the Middle East. Year after year, decade after decade, a region that is sacred to three religions and the home of sublime landscapes--yet drenched in blood and covered in the dust of bombed-out rubble--brings those who live in more comfortable neighborhoods back to its old quarrels. Canada, the saying goes, is a nation with too much geography and not enough history. The Levant is the world's un-Canada--a small sliver of land in which ancient grievances are played out again and again as if they held the key to understanding tomorrow.
Rice's trip this week marks an implicit recognition by the Bush Administration that there are some burdens that every U.S. presidency has to bear. It is not that Bush has ignored the Middle East; on the contrary, he is fighting a war there, and the commitment of the President to advance the cause of democracy in nations that have long been autocracies amounts to a policy of revolution. But in six years, Bush's team has studiously avoided the habits of the past: shuttle diplomacy, Camp David summits, special envoys. To Bush & Co., those things are naive, incremental, Clintonian. But whether he likes it or not, the President--and his Secretary of State--is deep in the Clinton woods now; the very least that well-wishers can do is point them toward pathways through the thickets.
In truth, Bush and Rice know those paths well. Everyone does. There is no mystery to the theory of peace in the Middle East; it's the practice that has proved so difficult. But it is worth setting out the keys to peace that--with time, patience and goodwill in an area where they are in chronically short supply--might one day allow people to concentrate on building a better life for their children rather than scurrying into bolt-holes and shelters. Here are six of them.
1 GET THE U.S. INVOLVED
IT IS EASY TO SEE WHY ANY U.S. administration would want to stay out of Middle East peacemaking. Those who have tried have had little to show for their pains. Jimmy Carter's successful effort to broker a peace between Egypt and Israel at Camp David in 1978 did nothing for his political fortunes. In 1983, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, 241 members of the U.S. armed forces died after the bombing of a military barracks in Beirut--killed by a suspected Hizballah faction. And Bill Clinton left office bitterly disappointed that all his intelligence and charm were insufficient to bring about a comprehensive settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.