What do you do if you are a lame-duck prime minister with a single digit approval rating and you’ve been negotiating a very problematic deal with a party of exceedingly limited power?
Perhaps if you were in this position you’d pull back and table negotiations. Knowing that this is what is being demanded of you and what legal precedent in the nation requires. Recognizing that it’s wrong to tie the hands of whatever government might follow you.
But Ehud Olmert isn’t you. And his declared preference is for going full steam ahead. This makes little sense, and is, in fact, an outrage. But hey, if you’re Ehud Olmert, you don’t care.
Olmert met here in Jerusalem yesterday with PA president Mahmoud Abbas in order to advance “peace” negotiations. Negotiator Saeb Erekat declared that no real progress was made, but, still, the parties have begun talking again about reaching a shelf agreement by the end of 2008.
A shelf agreement, if you remember, means that all parameters for an agreement are set down on paper, but then the paper is “put on the shelf,” that is, not enacted, until the PA is strong enough to fulfill its commitments with regard to security and more.
The argument is that if the PA doesn’t come through we’ve lost nothing, as we will then have no obligation to proceed. But that is purely theoretic. Guaranteed, once we’ve committed to certain parameters, we’d be pushed to see them through: to start pulling out of Judea and Samaria. Guaranteed, the Palestinians would be cut slack, just as they always are: OK, they don’t have a security force that is taking out terrorists, but they’re working on it, so it’s time to move ahead.
In all likelihood these are no more than empty words. I do not believe a “shelf agreement” or any other sort of comprehensive final agreement can be reached. The parties are too far apart. No way in the world that Olmert could come back to his government, never mind the Knesset and the nation, and say we’ll be pulling back to the ’47 Armistice lines — which is what the Palestinians demand: that we’ll not be keeping a single community in Judea and Samaria, and not even the Kotel or Jerusalem neighborhoods such as French Hill or Gilo. And that we’ll be taking in millions of hostile “refugees” as well.
But there is no way in the world that Abbas can settle for less. He has no wiggle room, no authority to compromise. While we keep compromising, he keeps demanding. He has to, you see. Not just because he really wants all of this, but because he is weak, and Hamas is setting the agenda, and he has to account for himself with the Palestinian street. Abbas knows that if he were to concede too much, he would, literally, be dead. This is a man who never goes into cities such as Jenin because his life would be in danger if he did.
The danger is not that Olmert will forge a final agreement, but that he’ll make some written commitments that will be considered binding by the international community and the Palestinians. That he will say, OK, we have to decide how to divide it, but in principle the Palestinians can have part of Jerusalem. Or, OK, we will certainly be pulling back from a substantial number of settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Rice, who is due here in two weeks, is pushing for precisely this sort of written statement. She wants a document that says what we and the Palestinians have agreed upon, and where our positions still diverge. This is because she’s looking to show “progress,” and ideally she’d like this before the beginning of the fall session of the UN.
If we were to give her what she wants, we would be putting our positions on paper in all regards — a very foolish thing to do when there has not been a meeting of the minds with the other side. There is a tendency, when negotiations are picked up after a hiatus, even if it’s a considerable hiatus and the Israeli government is a new one, for pressure to be put upon us to pick up where we left off.
The betting in many quarters is that this will not happen, but it is the most worrisome part of what might transpire now. For Olmert is predisposed to keeping Rice happy when it’s possible.
As to Rice, I find her position increasingly incomprehensible. The writing is on the wall in huge capital letters: Mahmoud Abbas and his PA are failing. They are not capable of forging a reasonable agreement, and not capable of defeating terrorism, and are probably going to be overtaken in Judea and Samaria by Hamas at some point. Yet she goes on with her “business as usual” attitude.
Her hunger to establish a “legacy” at any cost (and it’s our cost, first, that we’re talking about, but also US cost) is breathtaking.
There is something that Olmert did promise in his meeting with Abbas: To release some 150 Palestinian prisoners by the end of this month, as a “gesture” to him. More one-way giving with us getting nothing in return.
The prime minister’s office says it’s to show Abbas that he can get more by dialogue than through extremism. Unmitigated nonsense. And it’s no comfort that Olmert’s spokesman made the comment that this release will be “above and beyond what has been done in previous hostage negotiations,” which comment he refused to explain.
What’s clear to me is that Abbas is unhappy that the terrorists — negotiating releases for abductions — are more successful in getting prisoners released than he is, and thus are accruing capital on the street.
We are still in the process of finalizing the last of the deal with Hezbollah, which involves the release of some Palestinian prisoners — undoubtedly galling to Abbas.
There are rumors that Marwan Barghouti, Ahmed Saadat, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader, who planned the assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Ze’evi, and Hamas parliament speaker Aziz Dweik were on the list. But there has been absolutely no confirmation of this from our side.
Some other Palestinians have been released from prison by us this week — these associated with Hamas. Omar Abdel Razzak, who served as finance minister in the Hamas government, and Muna Mansour, a Hamas legislator, were released at the beginning of the week. On Wednesday, Issa Ja’bari, who served as a minister for local government in the Hamas cabinet.
There is broad speculation that this is a precursor to a deal on Shalit, or some sort of “good faith” — make things smoother — gesture in that direction.
I note that the sort of prisoners released — Hamas people who had governmental experience — are just the sort that Abbas worries about.
There is enormous international equivocating in the face of continued Iranian defiance with regard to its nuclear development.
The US, which is showing signs of enormous impatience with the current situation and recognizing that any UN move is months away, is pushing for stringent sanctions with teeth in them in cooperation with Germany and the permanent members of the Security Council.
Today, a statement by Defense Minister Barak to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera was released, in which he declared that a nuclear Iran would be “dangerous to world order.” Stressing the need for more stringent sanctions, he said that all options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat were “open and ready.”
“Either way, we need to keep every option open. If they provoke us, or they attack us, our army is prepared to attack and to succeed uncompromisingly…it’s up to us to find the best way to get the best result with minimum damage.”
Then also today, Secretary of State Rice, while promoting the need for more effective sanctions, made a statement that “The president keeps all his options on the table…”
As to whether the US would object to an Israeli military strike on Iran, she declared, “We don’t say yes or no to Israeli military operations. Israel is a sovereign country.”
From Rice, who thinks nothing of telling Israel what to do, this is perhaps a strong statement.
At the same time that efforts are being made to prevent Iran from going nuclear, there are projects being developed to further protect Israel from attack by rockets.
The US Department of Defense has pledged financial assistance to Israel in developing the Arrow 3, a more advanced version of the Arrow 2 currently in use.
This new missile, which is in beginning stages of development with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) factory, is expected to be able to intercept ballistic missiles at heights of more than 100 kilometers (i.e. outside the atmosphere).
Used with an enhanced radar system and a number of interceptor missiles, the new Arrow will have enhanced possibility of hitting a ballistic missile, and would reach it earlier in its trajectory — when it is higher up. This would reduce the danger of having the warhead and remnants of the ballistic missile land on Israeli territory after being successfully intercepted.
This would go a long way towards countering the threat of long range and nuclear-tipped missile attacks.
In addition, Israeli defense officials have indicated that in the event of a war with Iran, the US would probably deploy Aegis missile defense ships off Israel’s coast to assist in intercepting incoming ballistic missiles.
There are multiple reports floating about that Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) is being seriously considered by John McCain for his vice presidential slot. This was the first good political news I’d heard in a long time: Cantor is a good man with a lot going for him.
See Wednesday’s Washington Times editorial supporting this choice for more information: