Bashir Al-Assad has sent a not so subtle signal to both Ehud Olmert and the Israeli people that their next choice of prime minister can make or break the chance for long-term peace with his country. Ostensibly and perhaps substantively, Assad ended this stage of the negotiation due to the resignation of Israel’s chief negotiator (and Olmert chief of staff) Yoram Turbowicz. One thing that Assad is signaling is that he doesn’t want to deal with lame ducks like Bush or Olmert. He wants an agreement that will stick and who can blame him given Israel’s history of negotiating deals and then abandoning them when they don’t suit its perceived interests.
It raises the importance of Tzipi Livni’s candidacy to rule the Kadima Party as well. She is the only candidate who seems poised to exploit this opening should she become prime minister. Thankfully, she is far ahead of her nearest party rival, Shaul Mofaz. It also gives the Israeli electorate a stark choice when they next vote. Their likely choice will be between the pragmatic Livni or Bibi Netanyahu, known for his rejectionist stance on such negotiations. We can expect the usual nationalist pandering from the Likud claiming the Golan is as vital to Israel as Jerusalem and that Livni will “betray” the nation by giving it away. As with the Bush-Cheney-McCain camp, negotiations are portrayed by the Israeli right as a sign of weakness, when they are a sign of realism and pragmatism. I only hope that Israelis don’t fall for this trick. Peace is more important than any single piece of land.
The N.Y. Times’ story also notes that France is stepping into a vacuum normally filled in the past by the U.S. President Sarkozy has breached the U.S. effort to isolate Syria through his visit and negotiations with President Assad. Ambitious as Sarkozy is, he clearly seeks to become a player and broker in any future peace negotiations. All this comes at the expense of the Bush Administration, whose Mideast agenda is currently in shambles, proving that confrontation and isolation do not work when they are the only arrows in the policy quiver.
This should also provide another opening for Barack Obama to attack John McCain by showing the price that the U.S. has had to pay for seven years of isolationist Bush policy in the Middle East. Should Obama be elected president it is absolutely vital that he rectify the mistakes of his predecessor and engage with Israel, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinians, and perhaps even Iran should they prove willing, to disengage the combatants and resolve the outstanding issues separating them. He may be given an opportunity no president has had since Jimmy Carter (who directly helped broker peace with Egypt and and indirectly with Jordan) to resolve many of these conflicting interests and bring peace between Israel and her remaining hostile neighbors.