After almost seven years of malign neglect toward Israel-Palestine peace talks, George W. Bush is reinventing himself as a man committed to a fair settlement of this enduring and dangerous conflict.

Hosting a summit in Annapolis, Maryland, President Bush made a great show of getting some Arab delegates to witness the symbolic shaking of hands between two leaders with shaky public support back home, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Yet, except for the theatrics – and the fawning “Bush-the-peacemaker” coverage from the ever credulous U.S. news media – all that really happened was a promise for more talks.

However, if Bush truly wants to break the 40-year Israeli-Palestinian stalemate (okay, I know you’re asking “who’s credulous now?”), some dramatic steps could at least theoretically be considered.

Since one of the biggest obstacles to peace between Israel and its neighbors, both the Palestinians and the Syrians, is the presence of large Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories and along the Golan Heights, an important first step would be to remove those settlers.

Clearly, the Israeli government and the military lack either the capability or the political will to dismantle the settlements. But the U.S. government could redeploy troops from Iraq to the Israeli border to help relocate Israeli settlers.

This presence of American troops also would give Israelis a sense of security and demonstrate to a skeptical Muslim world that Washington can use its military power more evenhandedly than in the past.

The image of Americans helping Palestinians get back occupied territory would go a long way toward dispelling the widespread belief that U.S. forces are little more than Israel’s regional SWAT team.

The United States and its European allies then could take the lead in building the necessary infrastructure for a new Palestinian state, including an access route between Gaza and the West Bank, with Israel possibly exchanging some rights to that territory in exchange for land it wants around Jerusalem.

U.S. forces could stay positioned in the Golan Heights and the West Bank as peacekeepers until satisfactory agreements are reached between Israel and Syria and between Israel and the Palestinians, respectively. The U.S. troops would be available, too, to respond to some other potential regional crisis, such as a worsening genocide in Iraq.

Once Israel has reached peace agreements with its neighbors, it could reach out to the Arab world, offering its technological and scientific expertise, possibly becoming a commercial center for the region and cementing positive relations with Arab countries.

A constructive Israeli engagement with Iran, possibly including Israel’s help in constructing Iranian oil refineries, might prove to be a more effective way of deterring Iran’s development of nuclear weapons than air strikes.

Eventually, perhaps, Israel could join with other countries, including Pakistan and India, in trying to make the Near East a nuclear-free zone.

Other nuclear powers, such as the United Kingdom and France, might agree to join in disposing of their nuclear arsenals, and the major nuclear powers – the United States, Russia and China – might at least begin to reduce their stockpiles.

Granted, none of these ideas are likely. They are barely imagineable. The hardliners in Israel and Palestine – as well as the neoconservatives back in Washington – would do all they could to sabotage a genuine peace process.

Any likelihood for change won’t come until the U.S. political leadership finally recognizes that the best way to help Israel is not always doing what the Israeli government and its influential backers demand.

Indeed, the yoking of U.S. and Israeli positions in the Bush administration has caused serious harm to Israeli security interests, including a military-diplomatic setback in Lebanon in 2006 and a rise in Islamic extremism across the region.

Before any real progress is possible, there also would have be an acceptance that one of the greatest contributions to Israeli security was the Sinai peace deal with Egypt that President Jimmy Carter hammered out in the late 1970s.

Despite initial doubts inside Israel, that peace agreement has held for more than a quarter century.

Still, it is hard to imagine how the political dynamics of Washington – as well as those in Israel and throughout the Middle East – could change enough to give peace a chance.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

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