Friday, November 21st, 2008
James Besser in Washington
Has there every been so melancholy a meeting between an Israeli prime minister and an American president as the one that will take place here in Washington next week?
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, now a mere caretaker leader as he awaits the next act in the drama surrounding his scandal-driven downfall, and President George W. Bush, two months away from retirement and a questionable legacy, will meet amid almost universal speculation that the results will be purely personal, not diplomatic.
Each wanted to leave office with Israeli-Palestinian peace a trophy on his legacy shelf; instead both are departing amid speculation they will be remembered for other things – Bush for the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, Olmert for an assortment of scandals.
Bush said creating a Palestinian state by the end of this term was a top goal, but critics said he invested very little in making that happen – aided, of course, by a badly divided Palestinian Authority that could hardly make a deal when Gaza was controlled by rocket-launching terrorists.
Olmert came out more forthrightly than any of his predecessors for an Israeli withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank, but also undermined any possible movement toward peace by routinely approving new settlements, according to critics.
Both are leaving office with record low public support, spurned even by their own parties.
At next week’s White House meeting, they will discuss Iran, the bilateral U.S.-Israel relationship, Israel’s foreign aid, Lebanon and other issues. But will anybody pay attention? Maybe their farewell meeting isn’t about diplomacy at all, but about commiseration.