Bush's Bid for Peace May Come Too Late

President changes course, following pattern of past last minute bids for peace.

Nov. 27, 2007— -- In hosting the Annapolis talks on the Mideast, President Bush followed in the footsteps of other presidents who have taken on the job of bringing longtime antagonists to the peace table.

It all started with Jimmy Carter and his historic attempt at bringing Israel and Egypt together.

Carter's success in getting that landmark peace agreement in 1979 has now become the gold standard as later presidents have tried to emulate him but only when time was running out for them.

Last Year, Last Chance

For much of Ronald Reagan's time in office, he felt the U.S. should avoid embarrassment by refusing to take part in talks he believed were doomed.

At the mid-point of his presidency in 1985, Reagan said, "We're not envisioning any participation in negotiations . . . these negotiations must be between the Arabs and the Palestinians and the Israelis."

But in his final year in the White House, Reagan could not resist the chance to make history.

He sent his secretary of state, George Shultz, to Jerusalem to meet with Palestinian leaders. But the Palestinians did not even show up at the hotel where the talks were slated to take place.

This reporter, traveling with Shultz, noted how angry he was in private.

Publicly, he would say only that he was disappointed and that "Palestinian participation is essential to success in the peace process."

Bill Clinton also waited until very late in his presidency to make the big push for Mideast peace.

Damaged by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and worried about his legacy, Clinton hoped Mideast peace would be the contribution for which history would remember him.

When talks collapsed in July 2000, Clinton was bitter, privately blaming Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and reserving praise only for the Israeli leader: "Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak took some very bold decisions, but we were in the end unable to bridge the gaps."

Bush's Change of Heart

George W. Bush came to office vowing not to repeat what he felt was Clinton's mistake in putting American prestige on the line as mediator.

But now, Bush under the prodding of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has, like other presidents, made an 11th hour bid for peace.

A former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, now with the Brookings Institution, told ABC News, "The president is now willing to do something which he has refused to do in the last seven years, that is, roll up his sleeves and get actively engaged in trying to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement."

Bush said the Mideast peace talks are off to a fast start. But, as other presidents have learned to their regret, it's hard to reach the finish line.