The two conflicting strategic and diplomatic lines are clear enough. Bush refuses to accept the consequences of the defeat in Iraq and is promoting the employment of additional military pressures to restore the balance of forces favorable to US interests. Baker has presented a counter-conception which centers on engagement and a minimum of respect for the interests of Iran and Syria and a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Baker argues for compromise and attempts at conciliation and envisages a new status quo. There will still be plenty room for the protection of vital US interests.
It is the fall-out from this clash which determines the current feverish diplomatic activity in the region. The Bush answer to the defeat in Iraq is the attempt to build an alliance built around Saudi-Arabia- Egypt-Jordan-Lebanon (Siniora) – the “moderates” and Israel. In order to advance this option, Abu Mazan has been officially crowned by Condeleeza and by Israel as a moderate, and Israel has been called on to do its part by giving all possible support to the Fatah wing of the PA. Connie is running hard. She met with Abu Mazen and Olmert this week and is scheduling a three- way meeting next month. All this is necessary to prove to all, and especially the Baker-Hamilton advocates that the US does not need rapprochement with Syria or Iran in order to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace. In order to get a semblance of a peace process off the ground, Rice is even willing to find some good points about Hamas, who are after all Sunnis….. Mubarak and Abdulla and the Saudis have expressed support for Bush’s surge and now they all have the urge to help isolate Asad, Hezballah and Iran. The United States and its last friends in the region are busy building the Southern tier to shore up Bush in Bagdad. Israel will have to play its part in the game. The shrewder elements in the Israeli establishment will agree to a new round of negotiations and then proceed to drag out anything like serious negotiations for about two years. Within that time frame someone has to do something about Iran. And then, after the victorious showdown with Iran, Israel will find it easy to cancel any real or imaginary (on paper) concessions to the Palestinians.
Some Palestinians are tempted to try and gain something from the shifting sands of the US-Sunni alliance. It is hard to avoid noting that Abu Mazen seems to believe that the present weakness of the Palestinians leaves him without any alternative to playing the US game. But, if the Fatah people – under the pressure of the clash with Hamas - go down this road, they will learn that they were used as a pawn in the Bush cold-war.
But the Palestinian cause, with all its difficulties, is far from being hopeless. Bush-Rice are not the only serious actors in the region. The other members of the Quartet and the UN are supporting the Baker camp, which is ready for an organized retreat in the region instead of new adventures. Baker has figured out that another debacle like the one in Iraq would engender a major existential crisis for the United States. Bush wants to keep throwing dice, whatever the stakes. The aforementioned Southern tier is actually at the center of preparation for war against Iran.
Meanwhile Rice is trying to prove that the US can play peacemaker in the region without engaging with Syria and its allies in the region. This is to be the ultimate proof that Baker exaggerates the need to talk with the Syrians.
In order to avoid the US trap, the Palestinians need a united Palestinian front and an agreement between the Fatah group and Hamas is vital. The whole Arab world is watching and will condemn any side responsible for continuation of the nascent Palestinian internecine confrontation. With all of its doctrinaire approach, the Hamas leadership must show flexibility. A united Palestinian government is the best chance for real negotiations with Israel.
Two recent suggestions by a leading Palestinian figure, Ghassan Khativ, are vital for real negotiations. Firstly, the sides must work out the outlines of a final settlement - based on the June 1967 borders- at the outset and in the very first stage in the new round of negotiations. The final status must be clear locally, regionally and internationally. No more games. The sides will decide on the final destination and then work out the steps to reach it. All responsible parties must agree to avoid meaningless negotiations whose sole purpose is to prove that the United States is, as it were, actively involved in the peace process. And secondly, there must be an independent neutral third party force serving as an honest broker (the UN, the Quartet) a role that the United States is simply unable to fulfill.
It is hard to evaluate how much damage will be done until Bush and his loyalists are dragged screaming and kicking from the helm of power. But, Bush, despite his friends in our region, is almost isolated throughout the the entire world, which is appalled at the specter of a gang of adventurous fools who want to recoup their Iraqi losses by another war in the Persian Gulf.
Baker and those whom, he represents have figured out that real progress, and genuine inclusive diplomacy could get an enormous boost from genuine, serious negotiations for ending the Israeli-Palestinian blood bath.
The flag of an authentic two state solution with real sovereignty for the Palestinians and steps – both concrete and long range – to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian masses and with effective security for Israel and its people will fly over this land. You must believe.
Zionism appeared in Jewish life waving the flag of normalcy. The idea was that Jewish sovereignty would pave the way to a normal existence and deliver the Jews from the vicissitudes of life among the goyim. Critics of the Zionist project were quick to point out that normalcy would mean that there would be Jewish criminals and even Jewish prostitutes – it being clear to all involved in the debate that “no such animal existed” up to this point in Jewish life.
The Zionist advocates sighed and argued that this was a small price to pay for the overriding advantages of independent national existence. But even those who had steeled themselves for some unpleasant aspects of national existence were not ready for the deluge of criminal behavior in high places that characterizes Israeli public life today. A short list of the present, distinguished leaders of Israel, who are also distinguished by virtue of the fact that they are defendants involved in criminal prosecutions, will tax the outer limits of Zionist normalcy.
Our predator President is going to be indicted for four sexual assaults. They can be considered crimes ex officio because they were all inflicted on women employed by the government. Four other accusations were squashed because of the statute of limitations. Our Prime Minister is busy preparing to dodge three separate indictments for things like influence peddling, illegal appointments and real estate rake offs. Our suspended Minister of Justice is awaiting a verdict in a sexual harassment case. Malfunction, misfeasance and just plain “shlumperei” (sloppy inefficiency) by the government and the army related to last summer’s war in Lebanon are being investigated all over the place.(The time in Israel for dealing with serious accusations regarding war crimes has not yet arrived). The former Minister of Justice, Hanegbi, cannot serve as a minister because he is charged with handing out a hundred jobs to party hacks without bothering about qualifications. There is a case brewing against the Finance Minister for not reporting a major robbery in the health fund that he headed at the time. Oh, did we mention that the top officials of the Tax Service are being investigated for advancing the careers of members of the senior staff who have the proper attitude towards money people who had previously suggested them as the right person for the job? I am certain that there are other important instances, but I think the reader will get the idea.
It seems that Israel has hit the “normalcy” jackpot and is now out to win the Olympic finals for the most corrupt public servants…
Now, this is the point that we have to come clean and reveal our obsessive belief that somewhere and somehow all this is definitely linked to the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the mud mountain of illegality, injustice, corruption and brutality slipping and sliding westward from the West Bank and northward from the Gaza Strip.
Ten thousand Palestinian political prisoners are languishing in Israeli jails. Whatever the opinion regarding their actions, it is clear that they are not common criminals. It is far from clear that this can be said regarding those holding them.