The upcoming Knesset elections are superfluous. The outgoing government could have and should have continued to rule for an additional two years, in a reshuffled format and with Tzipi Livni at the helm, if only Ehud Olmert had been deemed incapacitated following his resignation. When it became clear Olmert would not volunteer to declare himself incapacitated, Kadima should have done away with him, but instead it revealed itself to be a weak, suicidal party.
A vicious political-legal cycle has been created: Olmert would not have survived in office while waiting for the formation of the next government if Attorney General Menachem Mazuz had only followed through on what he promised back in August: to rule (favorably) on the matter of trying Olmert in the Talansky and Rishon Tours cases. But Mazuz hoped that Livni would succeed in forming a government, thus sparing him from setting a precedent of indicting a sitting prime minister. Into the breach steps Benjamin Netanyahu, who seeks to halt the diplomatic process. Olmert, in his selfish behavior, seriously harmed the chances for peace in the name of which he now disseminates empty statements.
Olmert's visit with George W. Bush this week has no significance from a diplomatic and security standpoint. Both leaders are tasked solely with overseeing a smooth transition without any authority to obligate the next administrations to do anything. Bush's sway over Barack Obama's administration and Congress is next to zero.
What is especially ridiculous are Olmert's apparent efforts to secure the president's support for the U.S. sale of F-22 fighter jets to Israel. Bush's recommendation will have no impact one way or the other. The U.S. Air Force explained to Congress that the most advanced aircraft in the world is vital for preserving its own air supremacy. Compelling reasoning, thought the Congress, which subsequently banned export of the jets, including to friendly countries like Japan and Israel.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has expressed reservations over pouring excessive funds into the F-22, prefers to leave the decision regarding the continuation of the program to the incoming administration. Israel's turn is a long way off. By the beginning of December, when Gates will welcome Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he will also find out whether he will remain in his post under the Obama administration.
In the administration of Bush, Sr., Gates was deputy to then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. By the end of the 1970s, as the assistant chief of the CIA, Gates - together with Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski - met in Algeria with representatives of the newly installed government of the Ayatollah Khomeini. These facts are important in illuminating the web of ties that bind senior citizens like the Republican Scowcroft, 83, and the Democrat Brzezinski, 80, who have jointly written a book, appear in interviews and write articles. Each may only be half a Kissinger, but together they are known to be influential. Obama listens to them.
Thanks to the presence of Gates and the designated secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, it isn't too far-fetched to envision former presidents Carter, Clinton and the two Bushes standing behind the four-point plan which Scowcroft and Brzezinski have recommended to Obama for resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict. Even retired General James L. Jones, a likely candidate for U.S. national security adviser, can lend his stature and expertise as a former commander of NATO and as George W. Bush's security envoy to the Middle East.
The plan is an updated version of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which offers land for peace: an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 lines with slight moderations that are mutually agreed upon with the Palestinians (handing over territory from Israel proper to a Palestinian state, in exchange for settlement blocs that sit near the agreed-upon final-status border); two capitals in a shared Jerusalem; a demilitarized Palestine, which would pose no security threat to Israel; and financial compensation, from international sources, for Palestinian refugees, who will have to give up the dream of realizing the right of return.
In order to appease both sides, the plan proposes stationing NATO forces, or a different international force, as peacekeepers - apparently, not along the length of the separation fence, but rather in the Jordan Valley so as to serve as a buffer between Palestine and the Arab world to its east, and thus thwart possible linkage with hostile elements in Jordan in the event of an Islamist coup. Years ago, Scowcroft called for dispatching American forces to the Golan Heights in the event of an Israeli withdrawal that would be part of a peace agreement with Syria.
This is a realistic, even superb, plan because it is "American" and not "Arab." It is acceptable to an overwhelming majority in Israel, save for the settlers and their supporters (and, on the other side, Hamas). If a Livni-Barak government were to arise, it would have the strength to cooperate with an Obama-Clinton administration so as to move in this direction. Kadima, Labor and Meretz could adopt the four-point plan, which the Likud, in its current composition of Bibi-Benny-Bogey (Netanyahu, Begin and Ya'alon) cannot do. Obama or Bibi - that is what Scowcroft and Brzezinski are indirectly asking, in calling on Obama to immediately act in challenging the Israeli public to take a position. They are right: It is still not too late to restore what Olmert has destroyed.
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