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Bush Visit: Let’s Pretend Happy Ending

 

15 January 2008

By Yisrael Ne'eman

It is time for a post mortem on the visit by US Pres. George Bush to Israel and the Middle East last week. For all the good intentions, there was nothing new. As written previously in these columns, the Americans want to show the Palestinians the benefits of a final status agreement with Israel once it is negotiated in full. There will be a two-state solution, no Palestinian refugee return, borders similar to those between Israel and the West Bank/Gaza from 1949 – 67 armistice lines and Israel’s security needs will be met concerning the curtailment of terrorism and defense along the Jordan River (even if this area may well end up in Palestinian hands). The Palestinians can get on with economic development and Israel will no longer be at war.

Bush demanded an end to all Israeli construction across the 1949 - 67 Armistice Lines while insisting the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) halt all terrorism. Israel will continue building in the large settlement blocs and in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem despite US pleas to the contrary. As for the PA, their security forces were defeated by the Hamas and the Jihad in Gaza and is no match for those two Islamic organizations deeply embedded in the West Bank.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert is insistent on the two-state solution, seeing it as the only way of avoiding a bi-national state. His Kadima faction, as well as his Labor Party allies fully concur. His supposedly right wing coalition partners, Yisrael Beitainu, led by Avigdor Leiberman are said to considering bolting the coalition because Olmert will now deal with the “core issues” of the conflict mentioned above. But Leiberman is even more acutely aware of the problem as he would trade off heavily populated Israeli Arab border regions to the future Palestinian State in return for lands in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) where Jews reside. Yisrael Beitainu definitely wants a two state solution but on their terms. Leaving the coalition is another story.

The secular Fatah Palestinian government led by Abbas has virtually no control over anything yet ordered a lockdown of Ramallah during the presidential visit. Anti-government demonstrators showed up in any case and the PA police waded into them, using a fair amount of force to repress the protests.

What Bush, Olmert and Abbas seek is an agreement in principle with all the details worked out by the end of 2008. Even should a final status agreement two-state solution be worked out, it is doubtful whether the Palestinian populace will accept it (Abbas speaks of a plebiscite). And even were it accepted it would be impossible to implement over the objections of the Hamas/Jihad. Let us not forget that 90% of Palestinians under the age of 25 do not accept Israel’s right to exist. Bush came to state the obvious despite knowing there is little chance of agreement and even less of implementation. It is all a game of “Let’s Pretend” in the hope of a happy ending.

The dilemma is that with each passing year there is less possibility of a two state solution, yet a one state bi-national option eliminates the State of Israel as the Jewish State. But since the Palestinian Authority cannot control terrorism, even the two-state solution will remain theoretical since Israel will be forced to continue its presence in the West Bank.

The situation is only becoming more radical, especially in Gaza. With hundreds of tons of high explosives, arms and ammunition arriving through the tunnels connecting Egyptian controlled Sinai with Gaza and being smuggled in along the coast (despite Israeli navy efforts to halt the contraband) the Hamas and Jihad are being forced into a more militant position as their youthful fighters/terrorists are demanding more action against “the Zionist enemy.” Moreover, al-Qaeda has infiltrated the Strip further radicalizing Islamist politics.

Other dilemmas abound. For there to be a peace agreement Hamas cannot remain in control of Gaza, yet the PA and Fatah are incapable of recapturing the region. In both the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas is far more popular than Fatah. There are to be Palestinian presidential elections in January 2009 and if the populace has its way (as it did in the PA legislature two years ago) the Hamas candidate will win by a landslide.

Will the US, Europe and the West insist on free, open democratic elections or will they continue supporting Abbas and his non-elected, non-representative emergency government in Ramallah? It is almost irrelevant.

All this makes the Israeli situation close to impossible. The Palestinians either cannot or will not deliver a two-state solution and a bi-national state means Israel’s demise. For all one can guess we may be back to Olmert’s “reconsolidation” or “realignment” unilateral withdrawal plans whose roots are found in Ariel Sharon’s Gaza Disengagement of 2005.

And even should Olmert fall as a result of corruption charges or the fallout from the Winograd Report concerning Israeli failures during the Second Lebanese War a unilateral withdrawal may be the only realistic option in the short term even should elections lead to a right wing government. No one should be surprised if the Likud’s Benyamin Netanyahu will be the next PM and adopt a partial “reconsolidation” but under another name, as the only viable alternative. Oh, but not to worry, the IDF (with full US support as long as Bush is in power) will continue its incursions and forays against terrorist targets when necessary whether in Gaza or the West Bank.