Bush should stay home
Unless he has a rabbit in his hat, this will be the third time in the past half year that the U.S. president shows the Palestinians and the entire Arab world that they are wasting their time by trying to end the occupation by peaceful means.
If George Bush were a true friend of Israel, he would seize the investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as an excuse to stay home tomorrow. Unless he has a rabbit in his hat, this will be the third time in the past half year that the U.S. president shows the Palestinians and the entire Arab world that they are wasting their time by trying to end the occupation by peaceful means. Not only have matters not improved since he troubled dozens of leaders from around the world to come to Annapolis in late November, 2007; since then, the occupation has been progressing, while the vision of two states has been receding. The number of new buildings erected in the settlements in the last few months rivals only the number of roadblocks that have been added since Bush last visited Jerusalem, in January.
Bush is an accomplice to an offense far worse than all of the criminal offenses of which Olmert is suspected combined. Every speech made by the president is one more bit of exposure of the nakedness of the Palestinian circles who tied their collective fate to the Annapolis declaration, which pledged to "make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008." In light of the stasis in the negotiations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) seems likely to resign even before Olmert does.
The failed gamble of the United States also undermines the standing of leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Every fruitless visit by Bush to Israeli Jerusalem pushes the Arab League further and further away from its own peace initiative of March 2002, and provides more ammunition to Iran and Syria in their struggle for hegemony in the Middle East, over and above the moderate Sunni axis. Gaza and Lebanon are just the beginning.
If Bush cared about Israel remaining a Jewish country, he would not have let Abbas leave the White House last month bruised and battered. The Palestinian president told him that when the Palestinian delegates to the talks saw the Israeli positions, they thought Olmert and Tzipi Livni were playing a joke on them. In addition to all of the "settlement clusters," including, of course, the territorial "fingers" of Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumin and Givat Ze'ev, the Israelis demanded to remain in control of the entire Jordan Valley, almost to the outskirts of Nablus, while leaving intact all of the Jewish settlements in that area - all in all, some 600 square kilometers, amounting to about 10 percent of the territories. Israel also demanded that all of Jerusalem, including the Holy Basin surrounding the Old City and the Old City itself, would remain under Israeli sovereignty; Palestine would be given control only over the Temple Mount, which is held by the Muslim Waqf authorities in any case; not a single refugee would be allowed back under a Palestinian right of return, and Israel would not acknowledge any responsibility for the fate of the 1948 refugees.
Either Bush does not understand or he does not care what will happen here in the coming months if someone does not succeed in bringing the negotiations back to the Clinton-Taba outline. Abu Mazen's close circle is pushing him to end the talks and abandon the two-state solution. Moreover, he is being urged to dissolve the Palestinian Authority immediately, which would wipe what remains of the Oslo makeup off Israel's face. At the last convention of the PLO's executive committee and in a meeting with reporters, Abu Mazen handed out copies of an article by Adnan Abu Ouda, born in Nablus and formerly a minister in the Jordanian government, calling for the unilateral dismantling of the Palestinian Authority.
A paper recently released by the Reut Institute, in Tel Aviv, presents a compilation of evidence that the foundations are being laid for a Palestinian demand for a single state and for a return to the armed struggle against Israel. The paper also suggests that even among the leaders of Israel's Arab population, there is dwindling support for the two-state solution and a turn instead toward embracing the idea of a bi-national state.
"I am willing to make decisions that will entail painful compromises," Olmert declared at a state dinner for Bush in January, adding, "We have no interest in delaying matters. We don't want to procrastinate with the negotiations, lest changes for the worse take place on the Palestinian front. And we certainly don't want to delay the negotiation process when we have such political assistance [from the U.S.]."
What kind of assistance did he mean? Speaking of the Jewish outposts at the time, Bush announced decisively: "they ought to go .... we've been talking about it for four years. The agreement was, get rid of outposts, illegal outposts, and they ought to go."
What will the president say tomorrow?