Americans are, by now, well aware of the foreign-policy failings of President George W. Bush. But now he’s getting ready to leave office and finally he seems awake to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He wants to leave a legacy, we’ve been told about his impetus for the Annapolis conference and his interest in seeing peace achieved in the next 10 months. (There hasn’t been peace regarding Jerusalem in 2,000 years and he’s going to fix it in a year?)
Well, Vanity Fair‘s David Rose reports that there is a more layered context to Bush’s interest in the conflict and, believe it or not, his previous diddling only made the situation worse.
In recent months, President Bush has repeatedly stated that the last great ambition of his presidency is to broker a deal that would create a viable Palestinian state and bring peace to the Holy Land. âPeople say, âDo you think itâs possible, during your presidency?âââ he told an audience in Jerusalem on January 9. âAnd the answer is: Iâm very hopeful.â
The next day, in the West Bank capital of Ramallah, Bush acknowledged that there was a rather large obstacle standing in the way of this goal: Hamasâs complete control of Gaza, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians, where it seized power in a bloody coup dâÃ©tat in June 2007. Almost every day, militants fire rockets from Gaza into neighboring Israeli towns, and President Abbas is powerless to stop them. His authority is limited to the West Bank.
Itâs âa tough situation,â Bush admitted. âI donât know whether you can solve it in a year or not.â What Bush neglected to mention was his own role in creating this mess.
According to [Fatah strongman Muhammad] Dahlan, it was Bush who had pushed legislative elections in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, despite warnings that Fatah was not ready. After Hamasâwhose 1988 charter committed it to the goal of driving Israel into the seaâwon control of the parliament, Bush made another, deadlier miscalculation.
Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at Americaâs behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)
But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.
Some sources call the scheme âIran-contra 2.0,â recalling that Abrams was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President Reagan. There are echoes of other past misadventures as well: the C.I.A.âs 1953 ouster of an elected prime minister in Iran, which set the stage for the 1979 Islamic revolution there; the aborted 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which gave Fidel Castro an excuse to solidify his hold on Cuba; and the contemporary tragedy in Iraq.
Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheneyâs chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup.
Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of âengaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory.â He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. âIt looks to me that what happened wasnât so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen,â Wurmser says.
The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. âThere is a stunning disconnect between the presidentâs call for Middle East democracy and this policy,â he says. âIt directly contradicts it.â