The Magazine

The Inside Story

George W. Bush was most successful when defying ‘consensus.’

Mar 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 25 • By MICHAEL S. DORAN
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Abrams provides a valuable corrective. Though he is a persuasive advocate of a peace agreement, he argues that the rush to final status simply will not work. A durable two-state solution can only be accomplished slowly and deliberately. Peace, writes Abrams, “will be built on reality, not hope.”

George W. Bush’s policy of “no daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem did not, in fact, mean that the White House became a rubber stamp for Israel. On the contrary, it was a method of maximizing American leverage—often with results that even Bush’s critics should have applauded. For instance, advocates of a speedy race to final status frequently railed against Israeli settlements, which they identified as the single greatest obstacle to their goal. But few took note of the fact that Bush’s policies led to the Gaza withdrawal—a development that dismantled more settlements than at any time since 1982.

In Abrams’s view, only when Bush bucked the conventional wisdom did he open up new vistas of opportunity for a two-state solution. This is good advice for Barack Obama, especially as he charts his own course for a second term. Indeed, it is a little-recognized fact that Obama’s policies simply continue the course that Bush charted in 2006; and for nearly seven years, the conventional wisdom has reigned supreme. So what successes can it celebrate?  

Recently, when I bumped into a senior Rice aide on a plane, I put this mischievous question to him. “But we were this close,” he responded, pinching his thumb and forefinger together. “We resolved 95 percent of the issues separating the Palestinians from the Israelis”—which I’m sure was true.  But it is only the last 5 percent that actually matter. 

What is needed now is not a new push for negotiations, but a better idea. Tested by Zion is a good place to start the search.

Michael S. Doran, Roger Hertog senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.