Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to be commended for her energy and effort, if nothing else, for her dogged determination to carry through with a three-way summit this week with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem.
However, it remains to be seen what — other than a futile attempt to mollify administration critics who continue to claim that Washington hasn't tried hard enough to push Mideast diplomacy — the summit was intended to accomplish.
There's little doubt that Rice had originally hoped to use the creation of a new Palestinian government as a lever to create some momentum for peace talks. But rather than this coalition being a way for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to control his Hamas foes, it appears that the P.A. leader is merely a more acceptable facade for a government still run by terrorists. If anything, it is Abbas — still widely proclaimed as the face of Palestinian "moderation" — who has drawn closer to the extremists.
In response to this alarming development, Rice has properly insisted that before the United States recognizes the new government — let alone open the spigot of aid — Hamas must renounce violence, recognize the State of Israel and agree to abide by past agreements signed by the P.A.
Hamas has already signaled that it will not accede to any of these points, though, to be fair, Abbas' Fatah Party has shown no more willingness to abide by peace agreements during its years in power. But having placed all of her eggs in Abbas' basket, it is understandable that Rice is eager to somehow justify her investment. The grim truth is that after having spent years failing to get Abbas to act against Hamas, it isn't likely that he will move in that direction now that he is the Islamist group's actual junior partner.
The administration should be telling Abbas that it's not only Hamas that will be shunned by America if the Palestinian coalition continues on its present course. But with Rice in the region — and with Washington apparently loathe to tell the truth to the Saudi sponsors of the Palestinian coalition — the effort has been all about the secretary shuttling desperately between the parties in search of some sort of concession that will justify her work there.
With dissent about the Iraq war rising, the administration was in dire need of a foreign-policy triumph, not yet another failure. But if Rice and President Bush want to figure out why they find themselves painted into a diplomatic corner on the Palestinians, they should simply look in the mirror. Though Bush and company have been lambasted time and again for their unwillingness to listen to advice from critics, this time they erred by heeding them.
Ironically, this latest diplomatic debacle is the result of badgering from the foreign-policy establishment, the media, and, yes, even some Jewish groups, who've been urging Bush to push harder for a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Listen to our Saudi allies, we were told. Let Arab "moderates" see that we care about their opinion via heightened engagement. This, the critics said, will help Israel find peace and America allies.
But what the Saudis have wrought is the creation of a Palestinian government that flouts our principles about terrorism. And they have set Rice up to choose between the equally unacceptable options of recognition and aid for an unrepentant Hamas, or to be labeled as hostile to both Arab moderates and the peace process if she sticks to her principles.
While there's reason to believe that Rice will not compound her mistake by letting the Saudis bully her into accepting the Hamas/Abbas coalition, we can only hope that she — and the rest of the Bush administration — thinks twice before allowing themselves to be suckered into another such situation again.