Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON--President Bush held two Middle East summits this week. The first, with the Arab states, was an abject failure. The second, with the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, was merely a troubling echo of another abject failure, the Oslo handshake of 1993.

Let's be plain about what happened at Sharm el-Sheik. The president of the United States put his prestige on the line for the sake of Arab-Israeli peace and the Arab states gave him nothing. They refused to endorse Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. They spoke of their opposition to ``terrorism,'' even as they repeatedly present their own publics with the most elaborate intellectual and religious justifications of why the killing of Jews in ``Palestine'' is ``resistance'' and not terrorism.

They did not take a single concrete action, not even a gesture, toward Israel. Egypt did not offer to return its ambassador to Israel. The Saudis threatened a boycott if Israel was even invited. And most important, the Arab states refused what Bush most desperately wanted: explicit endorsement of the American view that Yasser Arafat's time had come and passed.

That would have been crucial in elevating Mahmoud Abbas, who appears to want to make peace. What did Bush do? What American presidents always do in response to such rebuffs: smile politely and say thank you.

Then on to the second summit at Aqaba. Here, Bush managed to extract enormous concessions from Israel. Ariel Sharon's speech was revolutionary. He explicitly recognized the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. He further recognized that the state would need to be ``contiguous,'' which instantly conceded to the Palestinians the overwhelming majority of the territories in the West Bank and Gaza. And even more painful for Sharon was his statement, largely overlooked, that ``no unilateral actions by any party can prejudge the outcome of our negotiations.'' ``Unilateral actions'' is Middle East-speak for settlements, which means that in drawing the final border between Israel and Palestine, Jewish settlements would be of no account.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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