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The Waiting Game

25 Apr

As the Bush administration winds down, it seems to be pursuing a familiar bid for Middle East peace–minus the level of direct involvement of previous administrations.

What I don’t understand are the public claims of a limited timetable:

“There’s a lot of issues we’ve discussed, issues of importance, the security of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, the economic advancement of the Palestinian people,” the president said with Mr. Abbas by his side. “The thing that I’m focused on, and you are, is how to define a state that is acceptable to both sides. I’m confident it can get done.”

Mr. Abbas said he believed “very strongly that time is of the essence.”

I doubt that Mahmoud Abbas is following the primaries as close as the political junkies stateside, but it seems fair to assume that Abbas knows that a Republican win is less likely than a Democratic win.  So what is the clock ticking down to?  I’m assuming it has to be some political event on the Israeli side; otherwise, it’s likely that a Clinton presidency would involve people who had previously worked with Abbas on negotiations during the last Clinton presidency.  An Obama administration, on the other hand…would also likely involve former Clinton administration officials, like Dennis Ross and Robert Malley.

Why not wait until the November elections are over and you have a more engaged partner in diplomacy?  Changing political regimes slowed negotiations  while the Palestinians waited for the outcome of the Peres/Netanyahu election in 1996, and was part of the rationale the US used to pressure Arafat to accept a deal in 2000 when it became clear that Bush would be the next president.  So what’s the rush?