US President Bush delivered a major speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this evening. The speech supposedly initiates a new push for Israeli-Palestinian and regional peace. Some of the main points:
The United states will call an international conference this fall, of all regional states who support a two state solution.
The United States will support the government of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad with major incentives including $190,000,000 in aid.
The Fayyad government must provide good government and security for the Palestinians, and the soluton must provide security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The United States will push for a two state solution and calls upon Hamas to recognize Israel and foreswear violence and incitement.
Israel must dismantle illegal outposts and freeze settlement activities.
The negotiated solution must be based on borders that provide for a contiguous Palestinian state, and that take into account historical and existing reality.
"The vision of President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayad is the vision of a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people," he continued. "By following this path, Palestinians can reclaim their dignity and future and establish a state of their own."
"All responsible nations have the duty to help clarify the way forward by supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad."
Both PM Olmert and President Abbas welcomed the speech.
Unfortunately, there is abig shortage of responsible nations in the Middle East. The speech is being viewed by skeptics as a "last ditch effort" to salvage the two state vision of the Bush administration, but it reflects a deeper problem. Mr. Bush is caught between Iraq and a hard place. US failure in Iraq, which becomes ever more evident with each daily SNAFU of the Iraqi government and each guerilla attack, successively erodes the ability of the US to influence Middle East states regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace. At the same time, pressure from those same states -- particularly Saudi Arabia, is mounting for a solution to the Palestinian problem, which Bush must deliver in order to get support for continued US intervention in Iraq.
The peace initiative has several fatal weakpoints. Peace cannot be made in the Middle East by ignoring reality. Hamas is reality. They are a big, bad reality. They control the Gaza strip, and a large portion of the Arab Palestinian population. They will certainly not cooperate in this effort, because peace in the Middle East would put them out of business. Their business is genocide. Likewise, the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hamas are not interested in this peace effort or any peace effort, which is why they back Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In particular, they are not interested in the success of an American-backed peace effort, because it is American-backed. The inevitable, unlooked for and unwanted result of this peace effort must therefore be a dramatic escalation in terror attacks, similar to escalations that accompanied all previous peace efforts. It may even help to catalyze the threatened war between Israel and Syria. Unless the United States has a plan for neutralizing the Hamas, Syria and Iran, this peace effort is very likely doomed.
The second major weakness is the Palestinain government headed by Mahmoud Abbas. It is hard to believe that the Fateh organization, which failed to reform itself in all the years of the Oslo process, will suddenly become a force for progress, rectitude and good government. Salem Fayyad has a good reputation, but he is one man. The performance of Fateh security forces in Gaza, where they were routed by tiny Hamas forces, does not suggest that any amount of training is going to turn the Fateh into winners again.
The third weakness is the Olmert government, which shows every sign that it is not interested in peace or war, but rather in staying in power. This government that has been doing everything possible to stay afloat, that has done little to reform the IDF or itself, cannot be expected to take risks for peace.
The fourth weakness is the Bush government and the "quartet." The Bush government forced Israel to allow the PNA to hold those disastrous elections in which Hamas took power, against the provisions of the Oslo accord, and the Bush government and the quartet all but abrogated responsibility for the consequences. Despite all the verbiage about peace and isolation of the Hamas, Qassam rockets continued to rain down incessantly on Sderot, while the quartet and the US and the "international community" did nothing at all. The political consequence in Israel is that "disengagement," "concessions," and "peace," have become dirty words.
Ehud Olmert is well aware that even the smallest act of terror will be ascribed to any further peace moves made by his government. Under obvious pressure, Israel has agreed to release 250 Fateh prisoners, and is allowing absorption of "wanted men" into the Palestinian security forces. We can hope that these moves will gradually catalyze the start of a real peace process, but hoping is not enough. Even if all these ex-terrorists become loyal servants of law and order, and even if the Israeli government makes a good and honest peace offer, there is still the Hamas to be reckoned with in Gaza. The PNA wants to start discussing a final settlement, but the PNA can't really offer anything in return, as they do not control the Gaza strip and the Hamas.
Labels: Israel, Palestinians, Peace