The Only Cop in the Neighborhood

Mubarak is the only cop in the neighborhood, the one who can perhaps see to it that until the convergence there will be relative calm and this is something that even Bush cannot provide.

If all goes well, George W. Bush will no longer be the president of the United States when the first practical steps of the convergence get under way. Though this is a matter of some two years from now, these two years will join the six years during which the American administration kept a cosmic distance from the Israeli-Arab conflict. No senior representative has worked day and night here to advance by one whit any diplomatic discourse; the secretary of state came and went hastily lest any stink of the conflict stick to her and an American boycott of the Palestinian Authority is the main contribution to "the war on terror." It can be said that in the past three decades there has not been such a lazy administration with respect to advancing the peace process.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is apparently hoping Bush's inactivity will be Washington's welcome contribution to the convergence plan. In any case, inertia has become Bush's only foreign policy. But even Olmert understands that the coming two years are critical for his plan. To this end the date of the truly important visit has been brought forward, the one with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. This is because when a war is developing in the territories between Fatah and Hamas and when the thin threads holding the truce together are coming apart, somebody has to be the policeman.

In the months that have elapsed since Hamas came into power, Egypt has intervened several times to establish order. It castigated Hamas, warned PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) against a total break with Hamas, met with the Islamic Jihad, demanded of Syria that it set limits for the leadership of the Hamas branch based in its territory, joined the international boycott of Hamas and dictated the main parameter with which the movement must comply: acceptance of the Arab initiative as it was formulated in the Arab League decision in Beirut in 2002.

Mubarak does not really believe that in the current circumstances it is possible to hold talks between Israel and Hamas, but he is worried about the absence of negotiations. He sees how Egypt is being drawn further into the events in the territories, especially in Gaza, which has an Egyptian force stationed on its border. This is why about a month ago he proposed holding a summit meeting between Olmert and Abu Mazen to prove there is still a chance for negotiations and at least to make it clear to Hamas that if it does not change its basic position, it is liable to find itself outside the Arab consensus. Olmert has closed this window. He has made it clear to Mubarak that he prefers to "focus on him" during the next visit. He has left Abu Mazen to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Mubarak knows that like the Palestinians, he too has no American partner. Between him and the American administration anger prevails. For two years now Mubarak has not paid his annual visit to the American capital and the free trade agreement between the countries has been frozen. The American intervention in Egypt's internal affairs annoys Mubarak, who believes Bush is responsible for the growth in the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as for the Hamas victory in the territories because of the insistence on holding elections as scheduled. Mubarak sees Bush as a serial damage-causer in the Middle East and he wants at least to prevent him from pushing the Palestinian problem to the point of no return. The Egyptian president is certain it will reach that point if the convergence plan perpetuates the conflict border with no real solution. The 78-year-old Mubarak also does not want to bequeath to Egypt a difficult conflict on its border.

Therefore, Mubarak will demand an Israeli commitment to hold talks so that he can create a partner; even if by default this will be Hamas. It is very much worth Olmert's while to listen carefully this time to what Mubarak has to say. This is because in order to realize his convergence obsession, he needs Mubarak at his side. Mubarak is the only cop in the neighborhood, the one who can perhaps see to it that until the convergence there will be relative calm and this is something that even Bush cannot provide.