The prime minister is offering the Palestinians a bevy of enticements, from the release of "important" prisoners to the opening of the border crossings and the establishment of industrial parks. But he is demanding a pricey down payment: meeting the conditions set by the Quartet (recognizing Israel, relinquishing violence and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian accords), implementing the road map peace plan (i.e., disbanding terrorist organizations), and releasing abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. To date, the Palestinian leadership has rejected these demands, and it is doubtful whether they will accept them now only in return for the promises made at Sde Boker. But the proverbial "ball" of responsibility for the diplomatic impasse, and for translating the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip into a diplomatic initiative, has been boldly tossed into the Palestinian court.
The White House, of course, is thrilled because Olmert is parroting its talking points and is taking the focus off of the fact that the US administration has just let the conflict slide, despite all of its bluster about wanting peace in the region. The timing of this ceasefire and so-called attempt at reconciliation though coincides with what Baker's Iraq Study Group will most likely recognize as a major stumbling block to ending the war in Iraq. It's long been known that the grief suffered by Palestinians is one of the main complaints by people like bin Laden and his followers, yet the Bush administration has just preferred to try to kill all of the terrorists instead of examining its policy issues in the Middle East and how they contribute to fueling the violence.
Bush and Iraq's al-Maliki are scheduled to meet in an upcoming summit and there is now speculation that Palestinian leader Abbas may meet with Bush as well but it looks like Olmert will not meet with Abbas at that time while Condi Rice will play conduit between the two. You'd think the two leaders would actually sit down and talk to each other and that Olmert would realize that the conditions he laid out in his speech have already mainly been rejected by the Palestinians, thus creating another long, uphill battle to reaching a point of agreement for both sides.
Meanwhile, as Iraq's president met with Iran's on Monday, news of upcoming troop withdrawals from Iraq came from Britain, Poland and Italy:
As the summit approached, Britain said on Monday it expected to withdraw thousands of its 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of next year, and Poland and Italy announced the impending pullout of their remaining troops.
Baker's Study Group may be seen as a way to win the day all the way around by some but it certainly won't provide anything near what is needed at this time to deal with the diplomatic and military crises in the Middle East. If the Bush administration had actually taken a serious long-term look a few years ago at how the Iraq war and its shelving of the road map would affect the instability in the region, we wouldn't be at this crossroad now. The first step to digging its way out of the current situation now that its been backed into a corner (as the GOP was by the election results) is to finally admit that it has made some incredibly disastrous mistakes based on ideology rather than reality.
Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley had this to say about the WH's lack of strategy today:
"We're clearly in a new phase, characterized by this increasing sectarian violence that requires us obviously to adapt to that new phase and these two leaders need to be talking about how to do that,"
Hadley described the Jordan meeting as one where the leaders would share ideas but not finalize any plans for a new strategy.
"We're not at the point where the president is going to be able to lay out a comprehensive plan," he said.
That's as close to an admission of absolute failure as we're going to get and it's only a 'new phase' to the WH because they've had their collective heads in the sand for far too long denying the reality on the ground.
The lives lost in the meantime can never be recovered and while the WH is still in charge, it's up to the Democrats to do the right thing and push hard for a plan that will work as soon as possible.