The ides of March, and here in Jerusalem spring has taken a hiatus: we have hail, wet snow and heavy rain.
But while it’s cold outside, things are heating up here politically in anticipation of the interim report from the Winograd Commission (which is looking at our failures in the Lebanon war). Due in a matter of weeks, this report — according to a Commission announcement — will be publishing personal findings and not just a general over-view. It is anticipated that this will have an even more disastrous effect on Olmert’s already disastrous standings, and there are those already saying that Olmert (as well as Peretz) will have to resign in the face of what will be revealed.
Binyamin Netanyahu is gearing up for this, and for prospects that the Kadima party will cave in the face of what’s to come — with those much-predicted defections by former Likud members of the party finally taking place.
But so is Tzipi Livni gearing up, anticipating that Olmert will resign and she will fill his place within a Kadima party that hangs together after Olmert’s absence. There are those within Kadima, such as Meir Shitreet, who are rallying round with support for the party.
But Olmert has given no indication that he will resign — certainly not after the interim report of the Commission. The final report is not due for some months yet. (It is not altogether clear to me how much that is leveled at personal responsibility will come with that first report and how much not until the end.)
And so we must adopt a wait-and-see attitude (whatever our personal hopes may be), as this plays itself out. A number of scenarios are possible: If the Kadima party hangs together, with Olmert absent, Livni or someone else indeed might take over. If the Kadima party, and thus the coalition, collapses, Netanyahu, as head of the opposition, would be provided with the opportunity to put together a new coalition (with 61 MKs). Failing this, there would be new elections.
Today in Gaza, PA PM Ismail Haniyeh presented PA President Mahmoud Abbas with a list of agreed-upon ministers for the new unity government. It will be presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council for ratification on Saturday. The single greatest source of contention with regard to this new government — who would serve as minister of the interior — was resolved when it was mutually decided that Hani al-Qawasmi, an academic, apparently without close ties to either faction, would serve. The interior ministry has particular significance because it oversees the security services; my guess is that Hamas will ultimately control this.
A draft of the coalition platform, which has been posted on the Hamas and Fatah websites, calls for a continued truce (?) with Israel, and offers a vague pledge to "respect" former agreements. It also affirms the Palestinians’ right to resist (resist being a code for employing terrorism) and affirms the "right of return." According to YNet, the platform says, "Resistance will only stop after right of return is implemented." In real terms, this means no possibility of peace.
As far as the Quartet benchmarks, it flunks on all three counts: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, foreswearing terrorism, and making a commitment to abide by previous agreements.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry, calling this a victory for Hamas, says it will not deal with the new unity government. This is good news.
Most MKs (other than Yossi Beilin) seemed to endorse this position. MK Silvan Shalom (Likud), for example, stated that "the new Palestinian government is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, intended to make it easier for the international community to ‘swallow’ Hamas. It’s a subterfuge." And Zevulun Orlev (NU/NRP) said, "The platform of the Palestinian unity government reflects Palestinian unity about the continuation of terror attacks and the implementation of Hamas’ platform for the destruction of Israel."
What is not clear is whether the boycott of the new government means not dealing with Abbas at all. My take is that it does not — especially as Sec. of State Rice is coming to town soon to meet together with Olmert and Abbas. Refusing to participate would require considerably more backbone than Olmert has ever demonstrated.
Abbas, wearing multiple hats, claims that he can now deal with Israel as head of the PLO and not as president of the PA. What is being ignored here is that in Mecca Abbas agreed to incorporate Hamas into the PLO, so that PLO policies and ultimately ideology are likely to shift, becoming more overtly radical. And in any event, the schizoid situation of Abbas negotiating with us when he is president of a government we don’t recognize cannot be successfully sustained.
MK Yisrael Katz (Likud) called upon Olmert to severe all ties with Abbas as the new unity government supports continued armed struggle against Israel.
MK Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) sounded a similar note, but carried it further, calling on Zionist parties to form an emergency government in response to the new PA government positions. These positions represent "a declaration of war on the State of Israel. They want to wipe us out." And right he is. I fear that he is also right about his concern that Olmert will not deal with this situation with sufficient strength: "I am familiar with the prime minister’s stand on this and his views are different from mine."
It should be noted that Lieberman speaks from inside the gov’t coalition.
Can she be that dense?
Sec. of State Rice, speaking at a press conference with Foreign Minister Livni, made this statement with regard to the Saudi plan: "We think — a very good thing that this initiative was put forward. We have to remember that it started as the Crown Prince initiative when Saudi now-King Abdullah put forward this idea.
"And obviously, the Israelis would have their own ideas about how an Israeli-Arab reconciliation could take place. But I always think that it’s a favorable matter when people are talking about resolution of longstanding conflicts."
Can she truly not have gotten it? That the Arabs are concerned with diminishing Israel and not with genuinely resolving conflict?
When asked about changes to the plan, Rice continued:
"Well, the Arab initiative is not a negotiating document. It is a document that sets forward a position. And as I said, I think very favorably about the idea that the Arab League starting as the Crown Prince initiative would, as a whole, set forward a position on which perhaps reconciliation could take place between Israel and the Arab states…
"…I think it’s a favorable thing that they are putting forward something, but it’s — again, it’s not a negotiating position as I understand it, but rather a framework, a vision for how Israel and the Arabs might reconcile."
Well, she’s right that this was not a negotiating document, but a position they have put forth — a "take-it-or-leave-it" plan that is unacceptable to Israel, but leaves no opportunity for compromise. But why is this a good thing? It certainly is not a reasonable framework for reconciliation.
She’s grasping at straws, is what she is doing. But if she is not that dense, what does this statement make her? Besides someone determined to play to the Saudis, that is. (You noticed this?)
See a quite fascinating commentary by Guy Bechor on this very issue:
This posting can be found at: https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/current-postings/2007/3/15/posted-march-15-2007.html