In his address to the Knesset last week, President Bush sounded like a different man from the one who called Israel an "occupying force" at the Annapolis Conference on Palestinian Statehood last November, and demanded that the Middle East's lone functioning democracy make unilateral concessions to its terrorist enemies as a show of "good faith."
Perhaps in the hope of bolstering his legacy by pushing the region toward a peace more lasting than any of his predecessors has been able to achieve, Bush had invited Israel, the Fatah leadership of the Palestinian West Bank, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and other regional players to the conference. He asked them to put their differences aside in order to work toward the best possible outcome for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The fact that the meeting took place at all was a demonstration of the administration's willingness to subjugate consistency and the keeping of its word for legacy building. To attract any states other than Israel to the meeting, the administration had to willingly drop several previously-required stipulations, including that attendees simply recognize Israel's right to exist.
Not only was that most basic of requirements waived for attendance at Annapolis, but President Bush used his address at the conference to betray his own word, as well as Israel's rights as the besieged lone free country in the region.
The Israelis "must show the world that they are ready to begin" working toward peace, said Bush, by "bringing an end to the occupation that began in 1967 through a negotiated settlement." His call for Israel to retract its borders to the indefensible 1949 armistice line not only demand that Israel almost completely compromise its ability to defend its civilian population but, worse, it directly contradicted the president's 2001 promise to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that such a demand would never be made of the Jewish state.
AT ANNAPOLIS, encouraged by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush decided to ignore his letter to Sharon. He also shrugged off his 2001 promise that the Israeli concessions proposed by President Clinton in 2000 were "off the table."
Instead, echoing the language used by Israel's enemies in the region, Bush demanded that "occupation" be ended and the state's borders be shrunk far past a defensible minimum simply as a starting point for peace negotiations. This, again, came without even requiring the other parties at the meeting to so much as acknowledge Israel's right to exist at all.
It should come as no surprise that, after Annapolis, the "peace process" in the Levant has seen no progress. Israel, the lone free and successful nation in a region known for the opposite, still stands, a City on a Hill shining its light into a barren land, while those who would see it destroyed make daily threats, and fire their rockets into civilian populations.
To the south, Hamas continues to wage low-intensity war. Its fighters tearing up water pipes and firing them into the southern Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as at the Israeli power plant that supplies much of its electricity. Then its spokesmen complain to all who will listen about the lack of infrastructure.
To the north, Hezbollah has reasserted its position of nongovernmental dominance in Lebanon, and continues to use the platform there to launch attacks to the south and to the east, where the U.S. continues to labor in hopes of pacifying and leaving free the country of Iraq.
Further to the east is Iran, whose leaders continue to fight a proxy war against both Israel and Iraq,while being ever more vocal about the "coming end" of the "stinking corpse" that is the country that they refer to as the "Zionist entity."
THE PRESIDENT BUSH who addressed the Israeli Knesset last Thursday appeared to be far more in touch with the reality of the Middle East than the man who got lost in some disorienting fog in November.
Rather than calling on Israel to make unilateral concessions to those who call daily for a genocide that would result in its citizens' extermination, Bush praised Israel's strong national defense. Rather than spending his time talking about the Palestinian people's "many gifts and talents," or echoing Dr. Rice's repeated assertions that those same Palestinians who shower Israel with daily rocket attacks want the same things that both Americans and Israelis want for their own lives and children, Bush warned against any attempts to "explain away" the murderous words and actions of Hamas, Hezbollah, and their ilk, saying:
[T]he founding charter of Hamas calls for the "elimination" of Israel. ...[T]he followers of Hezbollah chant "Death to Israel, Death to America!" That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that "the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties." ...[T]he President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map...There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It's natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.
The warnings and admonitions from Bush this time around suggest that he learned his lesson from the failure of the Annapolis appeasement conference to provoke real results in the region.
His Knesset speech also seemed to signal that Bush has returned to his his rightful place, vis-a-vis Israel, in the pantheon of American presidents -- that is, as one of the more stalwart supporters that the Jewish state has had, and the leader of the greatest international ally Israel could hope for.