Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Where is Israel heading now?

The Olmert/Bush meeting should have resulted in Olmert finally having a clear conceptual understanding where he is heading vis a vis the Palestinians. From early accounts, it hasn't. The government ever since the Lebanon disaster has looked aimless and is focussing more on daily survival then strategy. The approach in short, has been grossly negligent to Israel and its citizens. More is expected of Olmert and his government.

Significant changes are happening. Within the territories, the possibility of a national unity govt of technocrats is moving forward. Whether it eventuates is another story - the Pal. have for the last several months been close to a breakthrough but nothing has happened. Further, the approach by Hamas has been quite appalling. Their non-recongition of Israel is something deep in their ideological position and any hope that Hamas will moderate this position is naive. The only solutions therefore remains a techn. governtment which endorses the quartet's 3 conditions or the dissolution of the Hamas govt. by Abu Mazen with fresh elections to be held. The Pal. favour the former approach.

The other sig. change is what is happening in the US. The Democrat takeover of the Congress and the appointment of a realist, Mr Gates as Secretary of Defence suggest the possibility of a change of US policy to this conflict. Mr Gates, a former deputy CIA director in George Bush Snr's presidency is likely to return to the model of US involvement in the same spirit as former Secretary of State James Baker who advocated active involvment in the Israeli/Pal. conflilct. The report from the Iraq Study Group, which James Baker heads is similarly likely to recommend a renewed engagement by the US between Israel and Pal. Beyond that, there are other smaller sig. steps most notably Tony Blair strongly advocating a renewed push by the West to intervene in the Israeli/Pal. conflict.

It is hopefully clear by now that the neo-conservative dreams of reshaping the middle east have proveb to be foolish and utterly naive based on a basic ignorance of the middle east. The US is finally returning to the 'realist' approach in its foreign policy, most notably with the appointment with Gates.

So what should happen? A lot depends on what the Pal. do. If they are able to assemble a technorat govt. with Abu Mazen at its head and accept the 3 conditions of the Quartet, then the international community should firstly commence refunding the PA. Further, Israel must in coodination with Abu Mazen start a number of practical measures to assist the PA (assuming a techno. govt is set up) most notably strenghten security in the boarder crossings in Gaza to ensure that they remain open, limit military operations, release prisoners (subject to Shalit's release) and release funds that it is withholding. A bold move would be to release Marwon Barghouti, seen in many circles as a future PA President.

Above all, should such a techno. govt be set up, Israel must display a new approach and attitude towards the Pal. It must genuinely show a commitment that it is serious about a negotiated withdrawal from the territories and in this regard need to take a tough line towards settlement growth and the dismantling of settlement outposts. Whether Olmert has the strength to carry out these moves I doubt. He has proven unfortunately to be a leader lacking in vision and basic historical insight. Where Hamas fits into this question is complicated - they have proven since the commencement of Oslo to be the most dangerous actor in the Israeli/Pal. conflict and they have proven a disastrous to the reasoning. The dire financial straits of the PA are solely due to their stubborn refusal to accept 3 basic premises vis a vis Israel.

And finally there is the US. A more engaged approach is the only answer, who should be willing for Israel's own sake to go against its Govt. obstinance.

The next few months as always in the ME will be critical. Let's hope this time something positive will happen.


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