Obama Administration Has Achieved More in Middle East Than Bush Did in Eight Years, State Dept. Says

By Patrick Goodenough | November 18, 2009 | 5:00 AM EST

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Palestinian Authority)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration has done more on the Israeli-Palestinian issue during its ten months in office than its predecessor did in eight years, a State Department spokesman claimed on Tuesday.
Ian Kelly was defending the administration’s achievements in the Middle East amid questions about an Israeli decision to approve the construction of 900 housing units in a part of Jerusalem that is claimed by the Palestinians. (See related story)
Kelly called the Israeli move “dismaying,” although reporters pressed him to use stronger language, asking why he did not offer a condemnation.
Kelly contested the assertion that President Obama’s Mideast envoy George Mitchell had made little progress during his months on the job. “We are less than a year into this administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years,” Kelly said.
In September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also implied that the previous administration had not paid much attention to the Middle East peace issue, comparing it unfavorably to the earlier efforts of her husband’s administration.
“[During the George W. Bush era] the United States was not actively engaged in it, as we were in the 90s,” she said at the Brookings Institution, adding that she believed tackling the challenge now was made “a little more difficult because of that.”
Obama and Clinton announced Mitchell’s appointment on the second day of the new administration. Since then, he has visited Israel and the Palestinian territories at least nine times, according to Israel’s Ha’aretz daily.
Clinton traveled to the region in March and again in late October. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the White House twice, in May and again last week. He also met with Obama and Palestinian Authority (P.A.) chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations in September.
President Bush’s engagement in Mideast peace talks included his public call for an independent Palestinian state in 2001 – the first time a U.S. president had done so. The Bush administration’s 2003 Mideast “roadmap” embraced the goal of a “two-state solution” to the conflict, and a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis in 2007 sought to push the process ahead.
(The Bush White House claimed after Annapolis that “there is now greater international consensus than at any point in recent memory. Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs all recognize that the creation of a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state is in their interest.”)
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Israel and the P.A. territories four times in 2005, four times in 2006, seven times in 2007 and eight times in 2008. Her predecessor, Colin Powell, visited Israel twice in 2001 and once each year in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
In an op-ed in Foreign Policy last week, Steven Rosen, director of the Washington Project at the Middle East Forum, alluded to the view that the Obama administration has achieved more than its predecessor in the Middle East.
“Obama campaigned on a promise that he would renew U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, but what he has actually achieved so far is to return to the pre-Madrid [peace conference] situation in 1991 in which Palestinians refused to meet with Israelis and spoke of abandoning the two-state solution and returning to armed struggle,” Rosen wrote.
“By comparison, a much-chastised George W. Bush, who supposedly did little for the region, presided over the 2005 removal of all Israeli soldiers and settlers from Gaza.
"During his watch, Abbas met with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for talks in 2007 and 2008 that Abbas himself characterized as among the most productive ever held," he said.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow