As a nation, we seem collectively to be trying to forget that George W. Bush is still POTUS. We’re spending all our time at dealerships looking at new models and ignoring the old, sputtering, oil-leaking junker that’s taking up space in our garage.
Except right now the junker is in the Middle East pretending to be a statesman. This is the sort of trip that would have been covered exhaustively in any other administration. Big headlines, and all that. Now, even news media are nearly ignoring it. Nobody, here or there, expects anything to come of it. Well, except Bush. Michael Abramowitz and Howard Schneider write for the Washington Post:
President Bush, having rumbled by car past Israeli checkpoints to this Palestinian city, said he thought a Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty could be signed within the year, setting the stage for a “two-state solution” to decades of conflict.
“I am confident that with proper help, the state of Palestine will emerge. And I’m confident when it emerges, it will be a major step toward peace,” Bush said in a joint news conference Thursday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “I am confident that the status quo is unacceptable, Mr. President, and we want to help you.”
The fact is, Bush’s genius for bringing people together has already had an impact on the Middle East. Apparently he is soundly hated by both pro- and anti-Hamas forces alike. Abramowitz and Schneider continue,
The current state of internal Palestinian affairs only complicates the matter, with governance divided between groups with disparate visions. While Abbas greeted Bush with a traditional embrace and kiss, Hamas-led protesters in Gaza on Wednesday burned the American flag and portrayed Bush as a vampire, and militants fired rockets into Israel. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
And Seth Freedman writes at The Guardian that anti-Hamas Israelis protested Bush also.
I wandered up the hill to see how the rightwing crowd were getting on.
Their dressmakers had really gone to town, kitting dozens of them out in stylish terrorist outfits – namely keffiyehs, toy machine guns and Palestinian flags on sticks. Posing behind a huge poster mocking Bush as the “Founding father of Hamastine” their modus operandi was “to thank Bush and Olmert for releasing us and for backing a terror state next to Israel.”
I fell into conversation with their leader, Meir Indor, who insisted on speaking to me via a microphone, despite me standing face to face with him. “I want everyone in the street to hear our conversation,” he told me, before launching into a well-rehearsed speech about why Palestinians “don’t deserve” their own state until they promise to behave themselves. …
… Our conversation took a bizarre twist when he threatened to sue me for libel on behalf of Baruch Marzel, after I inferred that he was an Israeli version of the very militants Indor was castigating for their crimes. I was more than happy to stand my ground. At least, until one of Indor’s human puppets – dressed in an large American flag and Hamas headscarf – lumbered over and thrust his toy M16 into my chest, cueing my departure for the safer climes of the bar over the road.
Maybe Hamas and anti-Hamas militants should put aside their differences and have an anti-Bush poster contest.
The Middle East is coming together in disgust. Ian Black writes for The Guardian:
Beyond his uncritical support for Israel – still his worst crime for most Arabs – Bush will forever be associated with the invasion of Iraq and its repercussions.
The kings, emirs and the one president hosting him may be rolling out the red carpets, but both the Arab “street” and the “chattering classes” remember him more for the abuses of Abu Ghraib, GuantÃ¡namo Bay, and the errors and excesses of the “global war on terror” than for overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
“Al Qaida threatened to receive him with bombs … but we believe he should be received as a war criminal by hitting him with rotten eggs and tomatoes and staging demonstrations to show the real Arab and Islamic feelings towards him,” commented Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Palestinian-owned newspaper, al-Quds al-Arabi.
“The red carpets on which he will step during this visit are … made of the blood of his victims!” thundered Lebanon’s As-Safir.
Jihad al-Khazen in the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily al-Hayat called for Bush to be tried in the International Criminal Court. “Rambo,” sneered the state-run Syrian newspaper Tishrin.
Awesome. Since when has there been that much unanimity of opinion in the Middle East?
No wonder then, that so many Arabs look on this presidential progress with hostility or indifference, even though, in the Middle East, like everywhere else on the planet, attention is already focused on the next occupant of the White House.
“With all due respect, Bush might do the region and the entire world a favour by staying home,” suggested the respected Beirut Daily Star commentator Rami Khouri, “if he plans to visit the Middle East only to speed up the same American policy of blindly supporting Israel, sending arms and money to Arab authoritarian regimes, opposing mainstream Islamist groups that enjoy widespread popular legitimacy, ignoring realistic democratic transitions, and actively pressuring governments and movements that defy the US.”
See also Dan Froomkin.