Israel's confirmation that it is negotiating with Syria would appear to complete US isolation in the Middle East. The following is from The National (UAE).
Talking to Hamas
Paul Woodward, online correspondent
* Last Updated: May 20. 2008 5:17PM UAE
In an analysis of what went wrong with the Bush administration's Middle East policy over the last eight years, Jon Alterman wrote in World Politics Review: "It has become impossible to credibly argue that the Bush administration's Middle East policies have advanced the national interests of the United States. After shifting enormous resources toward addressing the problems of the region following the events of Sept 11, 2001, and after cautioning patience through the 'birth pangs of democracy', the results have become clear. On every issue that the administration has prioritised - promoting Arab-Israeli peace, liberating Lebanon from Syrian and Iranian influence, democratising Egypt, stabilising Iraq, and containing Iran - America's foes have grown stronger and its allies have grown weaker. Even more troublingly, virtually all of these problems are worsening as the administration prepares to leave office.
"The problem is not merely one of happenstance or bad luck. Instead, it has to do with fundamental errors in analysis and planning, an intolerance of ambiguity, and a deeply flawed assessment of the capacities of American power."
Among the most important of the administration's failings in its approach, Mr Alterman noted "was the conviction that among the most powerful tools that the US government could use against its foes was withholding recognition and refusing dialogue". He added: "It is hard to find a single instance in which such boycotts were effective."
In an indication that support for the administration's position on dialogue has eroded, France confirmed yesterday that for several months it has had informal contacts with the leaders of Hamas in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Haaretz reported: "Israel plans to accept the Egyptian-mediated cease-fire proposal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but does not intend to officially declare a commitment to it. Instead, Israel will treat the deal struck indirectly with Hamas as a series of steps beginning with a lull in hostilities, followed by gradual relaxation of the financial blockade of Gaza."
Earlier the Israeli newspaper, in an article that asked if the country was breaking its own taboo on talks with Hamas, said: "Participants at a recent inner cabinet meeting were listening to details of the Egyptian mediation initiative between Israel and Hamas on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip recently, when a senior minister reportedly reminded those present that Israel does not negotiate, directly or indirectly, with Hamas. Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin interrupted, saying there was no other way to describe the talks.
"A letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the details of which were revealed Friday, called for the indirect and secret talks with Hamas to be recognised."
Bush criticises his Middle East allies
At the end of a five-day tour of the Middle East, President Bush addressed the World Economic Forum meeting in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. Mr Bush told his Arab allies that a secure and prosperous future for the region depended on expanding democratic reforms and isolating Iran and Syria.
Reporting for McClatchy Newspapers, Hannah Allam said: "Bush's tough talk on Iran drew only scattered applause. While many Arab states are alarmed at Iran's sway in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, leaders have said they're even more fearful of a pre-emptive US strike against Tehran that almost certainly would lead to an Iranian retaliation with the potential to ripple across the Middle East.
"Many Gulf Arab states have significant Shia communities that look to Iranian clerics for spiritual guidance; a US attack on Iran could lead to heightened sectarian tensions in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and elsewhere. Also, some of Bush's key allies enjoy strong commercial, cultural or religious ties with Iran, from the Shia and Kurdish-led government of Iraq to the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, where Iran is a top investor and trade partner.
"'This is an official attitude of President Bush. We have heard it many times,' the Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi, a Shia who belongs to an Iranian-backed political party, told journalists after the speech. 'The region needs more dialogue, more comprehension, more working together against terrorism. Working together also for peace.'"
After Mr Bush said a peace deal could be reached by the end of the year, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported: "Michael Tarazi, an Arab-American lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, called Mr Bush's visions about resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute 'borderline delusional'.
"But he was impressed that Mr Bush also did not hesitate to criticise the Arab regimes.
"'It made me proud that a US president spoke so honestly in front of power,' said Tarazi. 'I wish he could speak as honestly to the Israelis as he does to the Arabs.'"
Amr Shobaki, an analyst with the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, told the Los Angeles Times: "Bush used strong words and levelled a harsh criticism against Arab governments, but this is nothing but public criticism. His talk about democracy is part of a public relations discourse. There is no real intention or mechanism to pressure those regimes to embark on democratisation."