The CBC report on the Bush-Blair press conference confused me this evening. First: Why on Earth would Blair still want to be seen standing next to that man? Second: Why are the two of them blathering about democracy in Palestine? In comes the NYT
He came with a mission to get an unambiguous and strategic commitment from the American president to close a deal for a Palestinian state that has eluded all their predecessors - and was denied Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader who died this week. To some extent, he did. Mr. Blair believes that the restoration of hope for Palestinians will bring a sense of balance back to Middle East policy and sap some of the energy feeding the jihadist movement and a worldwide network of Islamic extremist groups.
By delivering Mr. Bush for the European agenda on Middle East peace, moreover, Mr. Blair also stands to restore his badly tarnished credentials on the Continent, where he had styled himself as the essential European leader with real influence in Washington.
He appears to have told Mr. Bush that Britain can help deliver the Europeans for greater assistance and cooperation in the Holy Land, perhaps through an international conference in London. That would set the stage for greater trans-Atlantic cooperation on other issues, like containing Iran's nuclear ambitions or even Iraq, his aides say, and a healing of the rifts opened by the war in Iraq.
Progress toward a Middle East peace agreement would also help Mr. Blair at home, mitigating the political damage of his Iraq stance. ... In greeting the president's re-election, Mr. Blair used a megaphone across the Atlantic to say that revitalizing the Middle East peace process "is the single most pressing political challenge in our world today." In doing so, he was not only taking on the ideologues of the Bush administration, who had downgraded the issue to insignificance, but was also speaking strongly for Europe.
So much for the politics. Here's the substance:
...Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair - though short on providing any details - changed the language of the Middle East peace process by stating they were going to do whatever it took in coming months to support democratic elections in the Palestinian territories. They pledged to mobilize the international community to help rebuild security and other civil institutions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, allowing a new and democratic Palestinian authority to emerge for negotiations with Israel.
They're trying to hold things together in Palestine by pledging Western support for a Palestinian state on the condition that the Palestinians hold things together, have elections, and don't collapse into civil war. Fine. Except. Blair thinks he's giving the Palestinian's a carrot, incentivizing
a peaceful post-Arafat power transition, you might say. You guys hold it together, we'll give you a state. Bush thinks he's giving the Palestinian's a stick. If you don't hold it together, we'll let you rot. Bush is in top form now that he is
the will of the people
. Here's what he said
We are going to develop a strategy, so that once the elections are over, we'll be able to say, here's how we will help you. If you want to be helped, here's what we're willing to do. If you choose not to be helped, if you decide you don't want a free, democratic society, there's nothing we can do. If you think you can have peace without democracy -- again -- I think you'll find that -- I can only speak for myself, that I will be extremely doubtful that it will ever happen. I've seen it work too many times -- tried too many times.
You'd almost think Bush were hoping they don't manage to hold it together. It would give him a great excuse to go on doing nothing for the Palestinians.
So, now the question is: What else are Bush and Blair going to do to help Hamas, Hizbullah, Fatah and the others to avoid a civil war?