Unlike some of my colleagues, who see George W. Bush as Israel's "best friend ever" in the White House, I have for four years mistrusted the president's understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I fretted over his radicalism and inconsistency, flayed his key speech on the topic, tore other ones apart as illogical, dismissed his "roadmap," worried about his bifurcated policy, and predicted stormy weather ahead. On the last point, here is a prediction of mine from November 2004:
Israel has been spared from unremitting American pressure during the past three years only because Mr. Arafat continued to deploy the terrorism weapon, thereby alienating the American president and aborting his diplomacy. Thanks to growing anarchy in the Palestinian Arab territories, Israel will probably remain "lucky" for some time to come.
But this grace period will come to an end once clever and powerful Palestinian Arab leaders realize that by holding off the violence for a decent interval, they can rely on Israel's only major ally pressuring the Jewish state into making unprecedented concessions. I doubt this will happen on Mr. Bush's watch, but if it does, I foresee potentially the most severe crisis ever in U.S.-Israel relations.
A small sign of a possible confrontation came in today's Washington Post, in a story by Glenn Kessler about a surprise meeting Bush granted last week to a low-level Palestinian group visiting Washington. Relying on an account from Diana Buttu, legal adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, it has the Palestinians complaining that an Israeli settlement expansion might make a Palestinian state impossible to achieve. To this Bush reportedly responded: "Don't worry. I have some political sway with Israel and will use it if need be." (October 12, 2005)