Zvi Bar'el / Will warmer U.S.-Syria ties lead Israel to cede Golan?
Reconciliation between Washington and Damascus creates the impression Obama has a grand regional plan.
Where is the super-plan for regional peace that we were promised? Where, at the very least, is the "Obama document" for peace between Israel and the Palestinians?
An interim summation illustrates that the super-plan apparently consists of salami tactics. Take, for example, the matter of freezing settlement construction. There is nothing new about the American position that the settlements, all of them, are illegal. What is new is the more determined American tone. Yet, for now, this seems to be more about words than an actual intention to immediately solve the problem of the settlements; this demand merely aims to "check off" the road map's first clause. It does not draw a new border between Israel and Palestine, it skirts the question of the settlement blocs and it fails to mention other core issues such as the holy places or the distribution of water resources.
Israel responded to this "salami slice" with a declaration of its own, a revolutionary one, to the effect that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts the two-state principle. These two declarations, the American one and the Israeli one, are useless unless followed up. Even worse, without setting the next objective - let's say negotiations over a future border - what's the point in demanding that all settlement construction stop? What does the two-state slogan mean?
Syria is another example in point. The increasingly close relationship between Washington and Damascus, the unofficial reports that a new U.S. ambassador has been appointed to Syria, the feverish work to reconcile Saudi Arabia and Syria and perhaps subsequently Egypt as well - all under the Americans' aegis - create the impression that these moves are part of a grand master plan. But can such steps bring about Israeli agreement to withdraw from the Golan Heights? Have the Americans sent any signs that Israel should prepare for such a withdrawal, or at least that the construction freeze in the territories should apply to the Golan, too? Nothing.
Gaza is the third example of the abundance of talk and little, if any, action. The Strip's 1.5 million residents continue to be imprisoned as hostages to some chain reaction waiting to go off. Is the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit really the key to opening the crossings, or will a cease-fire agreement spark their opening? Is there a connection between the two? Once again it must be assumed that some super-plan is afoot.
All these moves are built on positive chain reactions and intended to culminate in fireworks that will illuminate the longed-for peace. Thus, if Israel freezes construction in the settlements and consequently Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agrees to hold talks over the plan for a Palestinian state, whereupon Israel agrees to discuss Jerusalem's status and the Palestinians in turn agree to blur the right of return beyond recognition, then the Israeli-Palestinian miracle will happen. If the United States and Syria normalize relations and as a result Bashar Assad agrees to meet with Netanyahu, who in turn will announce his willingness to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights, another miracle will take place. If Hamas and Fatah agree to establish a unity government that will adopt an eternal cease-fire with Israel, which will open the gates of Gaza, we can even expect a double miracle: Hamas' recognition of the State of Israel and the establishment of a responsible Palestinian government that can manage the entire Palestinian state.
The danger in such a domino method is that it only takes one tile that refuses to fall into place, sparked by, say, the assassination of a Hamas activist, an attack on a settlement or an insulting remark, for the entire row to tilt in an unexpected direction. Everything is interconnected in the structure Obama is now building. All the players have to move simultaneously, agree to conditions and implement them on a joint timetable. But, as opposed to 2003, when the road map was announced, this time there are three interdependent tracks. Without Syria there can be no Palestinian reconciliation, without which there will be no unity government and therefore Abbas will have a hard time making concessions. Without concessions, Netanyahu can shake off the order to freeze the settlements.
Obama, rightly from his perspective, is trying to steer clear of a comprehensive and detailed plan with a timetable. But his salami tactics are too dangerous a gamble. They encompass three reciprocal processes, too many loopholes and too many possible land mines. This salami is a very unsatisfying meal indeed.