FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
We are back talking politics with Mary Frances Berry, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying group DC Navigator. He is also a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
So, folks, I want to move now to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The president hosted the prime minister of Israel and the Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Now, they agree to more talks, is this a victory for the president, Ron?
Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Vice President, DC Navigator): I think it is. I think anytime that you bring two individuals to the negotiating table that have thus far not been able to communicate, not been able to sit down, and not talk about a peaceful resolution to the Middle East, I think that's a victory. I'm pleased that the president has extended his leadership and invited the leaders, not only from the Palestinian authority and from Israel, but also Syria to the negotiating table.
But this is just the opening round, and I think it's important to realize that this sets the framework in place for these two parties to continue their dialogue and for the folks in the region - Jordan, Egypt, other individuals that are key to a peaceful resolution - to come to the table. But, again, it's very fascinating that there have been so many people who criticize the president for influencing these leaders to come together. Let's have peace in the Middle East, and I don't care if it's a Republican or a Democrat. It's important, and I'm thankful that the president has done this move.
CHIDEYA: Mary, there's a phrase that comes up a lot in terms of these, I mean, decades of negotiations - honest broker. Who will be an honest broker and step in and basically be the middle man in a peace deal? Is America respected as an honest broker? What about previous attempts by other presidents? I mean, you know…
Dr. MARY FRANCES BERRY (Professor, History, University of Pennsylvania): First of all, Farai, we're not respected as an honest broker. We haven't had real success there since Carter, at least got the Egypt-Israeli Dayton established, and presidents have tried, and this president has spent seven years not trying, but I think it was great P.R. I think that, if I had some toys with lead and I got caught, in my company, I would want to hire whoever put together the P.R. - great photo ops, great pictures, handshake, the stories about Iraq over in the middle part of the paper.
Now you're talking about these great pictures - Israel is caught in that situation they've been in since World War II of being over there in this land with all these people around them who are enemies. And the elephants in the room were so obvious, like Hamas, that Condi Rice told to have an election, and they had one. And then according to Elizabeth Bumiller's book, she was surprised that they - that the Palestinians had an election and Hamas won. And now they, in fact, won, the media doesn't even talk about that. They just talk as if the Palestinian authority with Abbas has all of the authority; the people in Gaza are suffering. The other elephant in the room was Iran because most of the people who were sitting there was sitting there because they're afraid of Iran, and they are trying to figure out a way out of that box.
But I thought it was great theater, great P.R. I think, over the next few months until December 2008, there will be repeated photo ops with bilateral negotiations that will be on the front page, and people will be discussing it, and everyone will have forgotten the real issues and they hope to leave office with as a legacy, we tried on the Israeli-Palestinian question, and Iraq policy worked because the surge worked, and then they will go dancing off. But I don't expect anything substantive to occur.
CHIDEYA: Ron, it sounds like Mary is a little skeptical there.
Mr. CHRISTIE: I know. My good friend, the professor, is a little cynical. Look, I think that anytime the president of the United States decides to use some of their political capital to try to bring about a peaceful resolution to Middle East is a good thing. There are those who accuse President Clinton of trying to do it for legacy building and to hide the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and there are those who are saying, oh, Bush is doing it because he wants to hide what's going on with Iraq, but I'm a perpetual optimist. I have traveled to the region, and it's just such a beautiful part of the world, but a part of world that is filled with hate. And if we can turn some of that hate into something positive, I'm all for it. And so, bless the president for trying to do this.
Dr. BERRY: And let's just hope we don't make things worse.
Mr. CHRISTIE: That's right.
Dr. BERRY: Let's just hope. We had riots in Gaza - not only in Gaza, but on the West Bank where the Palestinian authority is in control, protests in Israel, all around the Arab world, suspicions and inflammatory acts, at least, project it. So let's just hope it doesn't make anything worse. And aside from that, I give them kudos for the P.R. effect.
Mr. CHRISTIE: And trying to make things better, Mary.
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, we're going to have to wrap this up. But before we do, how important is this to American voters? I mean, really, is this…
Dr. BERRY: How important as what, Farai?
Dr. BERRY: Israel is very important to all Americans because we know that it was the West that put that tiny country and those people right there after the holocaust and put them in that nest of people who were angry about them and also, therefore, created the Palestinian crisis, which has never been resolved, a sort of - like an impossible - so we're responsible. We feel responsible. People who are Christians or Jews or people who have religious reasons to be concerned about the reason we feel very tied to it. But I think in terms of the issues that pollsters find that American people are talking about for the election, it's not the number one issue or an issue that's high up there on their list of things.
Mr. CHRISTIE: And I concur. I think Americans believe in the preservation of the Israeli and the Jewish state and that the United States and Britain, some of our allies were very instrumental in bringing about the creation of Israel. I'm not so certain whether people are as concerned or as cognizant of should there be a two-state solution with the Palestinian state and Israeli state. Americans want the Israeli state to survive, and that's very important to all of us. But looking ahead and looking at foreign policy issues, I think from a pollster perspective or from a political perspective, people are concerned about broader peace in the Middle East and bringing about a successful and peaceful resolution in Iraq.
CHIDEYA: Well, Ron and Mary, thanks as always.
Dr. BERRY: Thank you, Farai.
Mr. CHRISTIE: Our pleasure. Thanks, Farai.
CHIDEYA: Mary Frances Berry is professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, and Ron Christie is vice president of the lobbying group DC Navigators. He's also a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.