Ehud Olmert came to Washington with high hopes for Bush Administration embrace of his convergence (now called “realignment”) plan to unilaterally set Israel’s international borders and thereby swallow up considerable territory beyond the internationally-recognized Green Line. What did he come away with? Well, he came away with some positive rhetoric from the president describing the Olmert plan as “bold.” The former also declared that once all other options were exhausted perhaps it might be appropriate to pursue a unilateral approach. The NY Times characterized Olmert’s reception in DC as 2 Cheers for Olmert. I’d call it 1 /2 cheers.
And Bush’s remarks are noteworthy for what they do not do. They do not endorse Israel’s draconian policy of isolating the Palestinians and drawing an economic-security cordon around Gaza. They do not endorse setting of unilateral borders–at least for the foreseeable future. They do not endorse Olmert’s refusal to negotiate seriously with Mahmoud Abbas–though hypocritical U.S. officials revealed privately that they do not hold much hope for Abbas as a serious partner:
…Senior American officials have few expectations that Mr. Abbas can deliver, so there is an element of hypocrisy on both sides.
Olmert lied when he told the U.S. Congress and President Bush that he too wanted to negotiate with Mr. Abbas (talk maybe, negotiate never). He wants nothing of the sort. He does want us to BELIEVE that he wants to negotiate with him. That’s why he said:
“We will make a genuine effort to negotiate with the Palestinian side,” and “we accept the sincerity of Mahmoud Abbas.”
That sounds like a good beginning until you read the next paragraph of the story:
“We hope he will have the power to be able to meet the requirements necessary for negotiations between us and the Palestinians.”
Requirements? Abbas has said time and again that he’s ready for negotiations right now with Israel. So Israel has to drive a wedge into its enemy’s readiness and it does so by introducing requirements, better known as conditions. I read yesterday (can’t remember the source) that Israel’s primary condition is that Abbas disarm all the Palestinian militant groups and end Palestinian terror. This of course is precisely the type of deabreaker that Israel needs in this circumstance. It’s not a dealbreaker in the sense that Abbas wouldn’t wish to do this. It’s a dealbreaker in the sense that he doesn’t have the physical means (neither troops, nor weapons, nor infrastructure) to do it.
In fact, one could credibly argue that if in the current strife besetting Gaza (a senior Fatah-affiliated security commander was assassinated by a car bomb yesterday and several others have been critically wounded in recent similar attacks) Hamas assumes uniform control of security there–that this might be a good thing. For Hamas can do what Abbas seemingly cannot. It can control both its own militants and have significant tempering influence over Islamic Jihad. If it can take security matters away from the irreparably splintered and criminal Fatah, then perhaps Israel would finally find a Palestinian partner who can deliver.
Of course, Israel still has an ‘out’ to avoid negotiation with Hamas since it hasn’t yet bended its knee and sung Hatikvah (that’s Tom Friedman’s locution for describing Israel’s demands that Hamas recognize Israel and renounce terror before it will sit down at the negotiating table).
David Makofsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Peace (a pro-Israel think tank loosely affiliated with Aipac) also unintentionally reveals the hypocrisy of Olmert’s stance toward Abbas:
The Palestinians, through Mr. Abbas, must at least be “given a voice and even a vote” in the Israeli withdrawal plan, Mr. Makovsky said, “but not a veto.”
A vote but not a veto. Interesting. If Israel has one vote and Abbas has one vote then one would think that this would mean stalemate. But not according to Makofsky, because Abbas’s vote doesn’t really count–Israel can essentially ignore his opposition. So of what value is his vote to begin with?
I just love one of Israel’s reasons for not negotiating with the Palestinians. If they do so and get into the nitty gritty of a Camp David style process and it fails (as the Clinton efforts did), then we may have another intifada. Here’s how the Times described the thinking:
…Both the Americans and the Israelis are concerned about getting deep into negotiations, on final-status issues like Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees, that are unlikely to succeed, possibly prompting another round of violence like the intifada, or uprising, that followed the failure of President Clinton’s peace efforts in 2000.
So Israel says “we won’t negotiate at all because if we did we might fail and stir up more violence.” This is idiotic and utterly self-serving because the difference between current levels of violence and death and a full-blown intifada is but a matter of degrees. It’s the difference between a warm war and a raging one. Israel doesn’t want to negotiate because it knows it will never readily give the Palestinians anything that will satisfy them. So if it did sit down and made such a bad-faith offer, both the Palestinians and the rest of the world would see Israel’s two-facedness and exert pressure on it to compromise further. This is what Israel wants to avoid at all costs. Essentially, it wants to stack the deck before the card game even begins.
All I can say is that thank God Olmert’s roadshow is over and he’s back on a plane headed home. We have enough hypocrisy and pandering right here in our own Congress and Administration without taking on the added burden of Olmert’s.