A U.S. administration under John McCain would discourage Israeli-Syrian peace talks and refrain from actively engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process. That was the message delivered over the weekend by two McCain advisers – Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Williamson, the Bush administration's special envoy to Sudan – during a retreat hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Lansdowne Resort in rural Virginia.
Richard Danzig, a representative of Barack Obama, said the Democratic presidential candidate would take the opposite approach on both issues.
'Not top priority'
In an interview with the Atlantic magazine over the summer, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted that in his presidency he would serve as the chief negotiator in the peace process. But at the retreat this weekend, Boot said pursuing a deal between Israel and the PA would not be a top priority in a McCain administration.
Boot called the Bush administration’s renewed efforts to promote Israeli-PA talks "a mistake." He also claimed Israel's talks with Syria betray the stake that the United States has invested in Lebanon's fragile democracy. "John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon," Boot said.
Williamson said that "Israel should not be dictated to in dealing with Syria or dealing with Lebanon," but added: "Hopefully as friends they will listen to us."
McCain a neo-conservative?
According to JTA, the session at Lansdowne appeared to suggest that McCain is adopting neo-conservatism, which believes in "a muscular foreign policy and an affinity for promoting democracy."
Surrogates for Obama re-emphasized their commitment to stepping up U.S. diplomatic efforts. Danzig said an Obama administration would revive the idea of a special envoy for pursuing a peace deal.
The "appropriate level of presidential engagement requires that the United States designate someone whose energies are predominantly allocated to this," Danzig said.
Someone like Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now leading efforts to build a Palestinian civil society, might fit the bill, he added.
It was clear that each campaign had devoted a great deal of attention to the issue. Officials from both campaigns signed on to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy paper this summer that called for closer U.S.-Israel coordination on Iran, born out of concerns that Israel's leadership was getting closer to contemplating the option of a strike.