He arrives on Wednesday and leaves some time on Friday. For those of us who live here in Jerusalem we know what this means: incredible traffic jams as streets are closed off for security reasons. The president is bringing a huge entourage that will be utilizing three different hotels. More than 10,000 police will be out guarding them. And I think I’ll stay home.
The papers are full of the predictable "human interest" nonsense associated with the visit of a head of state: things like a bathrobe being provided for him with his name embroidered on it.
But issues of a most serious nature present themselves regarding what is on Bush’s agenda as he comes here.
It would seem that the major focus of his Middle East trip is Iran. Bush has sent out numerous signals regarding continuing concern about Iran, some of which lead to confusion following the release of the NIE, which downplayed Iranian nuclear intentions.
In one interview with Yediot Ahronot , Bush said, "My message to the American people is that a non-transparent society that had a program could easily have another program. And therefore, the intensity of the effort must not decline, but must stay strong – and the intensity of the effort being to prevent them from developing the know-how."
Elsewhere, he said, ""If I were an Israeli, I would take the words of the Iranian president seriously. And as President of the United States, I take him seriously….One of the concerns I’m sure among the Israeli population is whether this intelligence estimate that came out, what does it mean. It means to me that Iran was a threat and Iran is a threat."
And so, OK, Bush intends to rally support to stop Iran. But so?
The Jerusalem Post editorial on this issue is well worth reading. Bush, wants to develop a "security plan," it says. But "Bush himself is a leader who presumably understands that it is the bottom line that matters, and that line is a simple one: Will Iran be allowed to go nuclear or not?"
"No amount of arms sales, basing commitments or new defense pledges will be sufficient to counteract the impact of a nuclear Iran."
One Bush statement examined by the editorial had caught my eye — and seriously unsettled me — as well:
"If Iran did strike Israel… We will defend our ally, no ands, ifs or buts."
Totally insufficient and not reassuring. The way to defend America’s ally Israel is with preemptive measures that insure Iran doesn’t have the power to attack Israel in the first place. After Iran attacks it would be a little late.
The likelihood that Bush’s focus will be on Iran rather than Annapolis is reinforced by two events:
— Israeli security determined yesterday that the longer-range rocket that was recently shot into the region of Ashkelon was made in Iran.
— Over the weekend, according to CNN , five Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels harassed three US Navy ships in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route off the Iranian coast. The Iranian vessels came with 200 yards of the US ships and sent threatening radio transmissions. If they hadn’t turned away when they did, they would have been fired upon. Seems a deliberate provocation short of full confrontation.
Be that as it may, the other obvious , albeit very possibly secondary, focus of the Bush visit is Annapolis.
Some of the preparations in this regard are laughable . Reports are that Israel and the PA are seeking to create a "positive atmosphere" before Bush arrives. To that end there are attempts to hammer out a framework for negotiations — something that apparently has not been achieved until now. The Post says that Abbas is eager to set up working groups to discuss the core issues, while Olmert is in no hurry. (I am aware this is not the same as what Haaretz stated yesterday — and I frankly hope this version of events is more accurate.)
Other preparations are not funny at all: Under orders from Defense Minister Barak, the IDF will be cutting back large scale operations that might lead to an escalation in violence while Bush is here. We will only go after "ticking bombs" – terrorists in the advanced stages of planning an attack.
The relationship between Annapolis and the US approach to Iran is a serious and complex one. Gerald Steinberg, in his piece, "The Bush Visit and Tensions in the US-Israel Relationship" for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, makes an excellent point in this regard:
"Within two weeks following publication of the NIE report, China signed a major contract on energy development and supply with Iran, and Russia quickly dispatched two shipments of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear reactor. Egypt moved to improve relations with Iran, and Saudi Arabia welcomed Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Mecca for the Haj.
"Prime Minister Olmert had explained the logic of the ‘Annapolis process’ in terms of the coalition to stop Iran, but two weeks after Annapolis, with the release of the NIE report, this rationale has lost much of its relevance."
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) is accusing Olmert of blocking a meeting between Netanyahu and Bush, even though visiting heads of state routinely meet with opposition leaders. Olmert’s office says they have nothing to do with it, that Bush is simply not meeting anyone who doesn’t support Annapolis. That would be most regrettable, and shortsighted, if true.
Bush has made the anticipated statements about the need for us to take down outposts, etc. But it seems a note of realism has crept into his outlook, for he has also now said that he doesn’t expect a final peace treaty in 2008.
Any honest security reports delivered to him regarding the PA security services failure to function (which failure has been worse than might have been anticipated) have got to help him see with a clearer vision.
Bush, of course, will also be visiting Ramallah, where, I am happy to report, he has indicated he will not be visiting Arafat’s grave — causing disappointment among PA officials.
According to a recent article by Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily, members of Al Aksa Brigades who are incorporated within the PA security forces have been tapped to help guard Bush. Al Aksa is listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. That they should be involved in "protecting" Bush highlights the absolute ludicrousness of the current US method of dealing with the PA.
It has been announced that the final Winograd report will be released at the end of this month. I will deal in further detail with some of the implications
in a future posting.
So often I am asked why there is so little protest from the people of Israel to what the Olmert government is doing. Well, we are not seeing the groundswell of response that would be most powerful, but now we at least begin to hear voices raised, and to see some action on several fronts.
This is a response to Olmert’s recent statements to the Jerusalem Post, which are enough to give any sane person nightmares.
And to the news that an Israel negotiation team is about to negotiate "core" issues. This means, among other horrors, that Jerusalem is up for discussion.
And to the coming visit of Bush.
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) has called for civil disobedience and said that residents of Judea and Samaria should keep building in their communities no matter what freeze the gov’t puts on them.
MK Benny Elon (National Union) in an interview with AP said that Olmert is "disconnected from reality." His Israel Initiative is being pushed in substantial venues, including on YouTube, where he hopes to attract new young followers with a mock trailer called "The Last Fanatic,. It is receiving considerable attention:
There are events scheduled for Tuesday, the day before Bush’s arrival:
— Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich of Maaleh Adumim Hesder Yeshiva will be leading prayer at Har Habayit.
— This will be followed by a human chain around the Old City of Jerusalem, organized by One Jerusalem.
— And then there will be a protest rally, "We will continue to build the Land of Israel," at the entrance to Har Homa.
Last Thursday, a spokesman for a group called "Homesh First," said residents of Judea and Samaria had gained a new willingness to resist government policy. “The ‘sucker settler’ is gone. We will not agree to be the state of Israel’s national punching bag anymore.”
Now after speeches at the Har Homa rally, people will move out with building materials to (symbolically) expand locations in Judea and Samaria. What is perhaps most pertinent here is the statement issued by the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria:
"We cannot remain silent after the publication of the White Paper decrees by a tired Prime Minister, and his shameful surrender to every American and/or Arab dictate.
"Consequently, we call upon the entire public of Eretz Israel loyalists to join every protest activity under the leadership of the heads of the struggle.
"… [as we start the] "We continue to build the land of Israel" campaign…we shall declare in a clear voice: Jews continue to build, settle, and go about throughout all of Eretz Israel – in the mountains and hills, in the settlements and meahazim (outpost settlements), in the capital city of Jerusalem, and in the periphery – whether or not the authorities consent."
The day Bush arrives, Wednesday, there will be a vigil in Tel Aviv. (Security will have streets blocked off in Jerusalem.)
Then there are the legal actions , which will be followed here.