Mar 09 2007

Olmert-Abbas again; not much hope

Published by at 1:54 am under Blogs

Olmert-Abbas again; not much hope   Daoud Kuttab

There are few expectations that the upcoming Palestinian-Israeli summit will produce any breakthrough. It is now an accepted assumption that without a strong proactive role of the US, little change will happen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Americans have shown higher level of interest in the conflict, but the efforts of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice still lack the full presidential power that is probably the only way that any serious change will happen in this part of the world.

Until such high-power intervention by the White House occurs, others seem eager to fill the vacuum that is created. Saudi Arabia, which led the successful talks that produced the Mecca agreement, is still a major regional player that aims to have a lead role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Saudis, who were visited by the Iranian leader last week, are preparing for the upcoming Arab League summit that will no doubt produce a revised version of the Arab peace plan. The upcoming discussion of this plan has keyed up the Israelis who are hoping they can have an input in such a revision, especially in as far as the wording about the Palestinian right of return is concerned.

It is to be expected that the combination of the Mecca agreement, the agreed-upon Palestinian national unity government and a new Arab push after the upcoming summit will provide Arabs with a strong peace initiative.

The inclusion of prime minister designate (or one with a confidence vote) Ismail Haniyeh in the Abbas entourage will be both a show of unity and an opportunity to rally Arab and international support for a single Arab peace push.

It is hoped that Haniyeh’s inclusion in the Palestinian delegation will weaken the US’ and Israel’s opposition to the unity government. If he is part of the meeting that approves a new Arab peace plan that is acceptable to the international community, this will be binding on his new government, as well as, indirectly, on the Hamas movement.

Palestinians are also hoping the Israeli and US opposition to the national unity government will further weaken during the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian summit. President Mahmoud Abbas has already stated that he plans to float a suggestion at the summit, by which Fateh and Hamas commit to a total ceasefire and put a stop to lobbing Qassam rockets from Gaza in return for the Israelis’ opposition to the national unity government.

The Israeli prime minister is shackled with too many internal problems to reach any bold agreements, even though some of his advisers feel that this could be one way out of the mess he finds himself in. One of Ehud Olmert’s advisers advised him to follow in Ariel Sharon’s footsteps; Sharon was able to shake off all the talk about his corruption when he presented the Israelis with the bold plan to leave Gaza.

Gaza has been another source of worry among Palestinians. Since February 15, the Israelis have been stamping the passports of foreigners crossing the Erez checkpoint to and from Gaza. Palestinians from Jerusalem who used to go to Gaza with a permit are now expected to produce a laissez-passer and a permit to go see relatives in Gaza. Israelis say that this is not a major change or a message of sorts. But Palestinians are extremely worried that the separation of Gaza from the West Bank (as well as Jerusalem from the West Bank) is slowly becoming a reality.

The idea of an independent Palestinian state with territorial contiguity seems to become nothing more than a slogan that has no real practical application on the ground.

It is clear that despite the growing regional and international consensus, best reflected in King Abdullah’s speech to the US Congress on Wednesday, there is still hesitation on the part of the US to take the concrete steps needed to push the parties to serious discussions about the future of this region.



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