The Excuse After Saddam

The breathless expectation for the day after Saddam Hussein's collapse does not take into account that someone will have to run Iraq for a long time until things calm down there.

Nearly a year has passed since Emir Abdullah handed over to The New York Times the principles of the Saudi Arabian initiative. Ten months have passed since the Arab League summit convened in Beirut, adopted the principles of the Saudi proposal and turned it into the Arab initiative. During the entire period, to this day, two scenarios have intersected: First, the U.S. won't attack Iraq as long as the Israeli-Palestinian front burns; and second, on the day after the war in Iraq, George Bush will throw his full weight into dealing with the local national conflict.

Two conclusions derived from those scenarios: the first is that the Palestinians have an interest in heating up the front, to prevent a war against Iraq. The second is that Israel has an interest in softening its retaliatory operations and assassinations in the territories and in easing the occupation, so as not to obstruct the U.S. administration's plans against Iraq.

But the two scenarios and two conclusions did not stand on stable foundations. The Palestinians did step up the pace of the attacks and particularly the suicide bombings. But just when it appeared the war was only 15 minutes away, there was relative quiet, and Israel, for its part, reoccupied the entire West Bank, going against what was defined in the past as American interests.

But nothing happened. The U.S. continued its war plans, no serious American envoy showed up to reprimand Israel, the red telephone that took Israel out of Gaza a year ago didn't ring when Gaza was divided into three 10 days ago, and meanwhile, only the Egyptians are talking with the Palestinians, while the Quartet discussions about the "road map" look more like an amateur bridge tournament than a serious diplomatic initiative.

Why did two scenarios, which seemed logical in their day, fail? The reason apparently is in the misconception that the Middle East is a single unit, in which everything is connected: pressure on Iraq will lead to pressure on the Palestinians, calming Israel will lower the barometer in the Arab state, and thus, if the Arabs give up Iraq, they'll get Palestine.

The illogic of that argument could have been tested only if there had been an American counter-offer, which said to the Arabs, "make peace with Israel and we'll give up the war against Iraq." An Arab interest in exchange for an American interest. Such an absurd approach should immediately expose the illogic in the preconception that everything in the Middle East - Palestinians, Iraq, Arab states, Israel - is connected.

Thus, there's another possibility. Arab countries have their own interests, which are not shackled to the Palestinian problem. Perhaps it's possible that their interests in Iraq are not connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not dependent on its resolution. Just as the Israeli government isn't promising to solve the Palestinian problem in exchange for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, thus the Arab countries aren't in any hurry to create a parallel equation. Amazingly, Bush hasn't made any such conditions, either. Maybe he believes in the road map, but he apparently knows that there's nobody on the Israeli side ready to navigate according to it.

The breathless expectation for the day after Saddam Hussein's collapse does not take into account that someone will have to run Iraq for a long time until things calm down there; that the American government will have to pat a lot of Arab heads to calm the area, and that on the Palestinian side - unless a miracle takes place - the same leader, whom nobody wants to talk to, will remain at the steering wheel. The same miracle will be needed to make Sharon pay his "heavy price," even if the Palestinian leadership changes tomorrow.

Getting rid of Saddam - if it happens - will remove the unproven threat of weapons of mass destruction. It will not solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, put an end to the Syrian-Lebanese threat, nor mitigate the Iranian threat. It certainly won't turn Al-Qaida into a branch of Hadassah. It will prove that local national conflicts are more important than global conflicts, and that they are not all part of some great, integrated plot. Saddam, for those hoping that after him the peace process will be revived, is nothing more than an excuse for diplomatic laziness.