Monday, August 27, 2007

Mideast Peace: Critical Twelve Months Ahead

Israel’s Labor Party leader and defense minister, Ehud Barak, is not happy with the apparent resumption of peace talks, and seems to be frustrated with what he perceives as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s attempts to reach a peaceful agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Barak, who flaunted the opportunity in the year 2000 at Camp David in Washington to strike a final status agreement with the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, apparently, cannot entertain the idea that someone else can perhaps succeed where he failed. An Olmert peace deal with Abbas could mean the end of the political life of Barak; hence the recent intensification of the previously much taunted phrase “there is no Palestinian partner,” invented and propagated by Barak in late 2000 to justify his failure at the Camp David Summit in Washington.
Barak, the Israeli right— wing media, the Likud and other right-wing and religious political parties are not alone in their fierce opposition to the possibility of reviving the peace process.
The degree of seriousness attached to such a possibility, as shown in the Israeli press, is uniting those mentioned above with similar-minded extremist forces in the United States against a genuine resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Influential American Republican conservatives such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Rudolph Giuliani, amongst many others, are opposed to President Bush’s vision for a two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. American Republican contender for the presidency, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a staunch supporter of Israel, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine last week that “too much emphasis has been placed on brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians ... it is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism.”
Giuliani apparently thinks that his president, George W. Bush and US Secretary of State Condi Rice are turning soft on terrorism, and also believes that an independent, free, and democratic Palestinian state is a threat to American interests!
While the US president and his secretary of state appear to be working toward achieving a two-state solution, and thus trying, though belatedly, to change and improve the image of the United States in the Middle East and the world, Giuliani and his ilk insist on worsening the US image, and compounding its difficulties in the Middle East.
The fact of the matter is that the obstacles placed on the path of a just and durable Middle East peace are formidable. The Israeli public is constantly told by their media that there is no Palestinian partner, that Fatah is a corrupt organization, and President Abbas is a weak leader who cannot deliver. This makes it far more difficult for Olmert to proceed with genuine peace making. For their part, the Palestinian public, who are subjected to extreme methods of Israeli occupation cruelties, creeping annexation of Palestinian land, daily demolition of Palestinian homes, worsening economy, and the incremental loss of Arab East Jerusalem, has lost faith, and does not have an iota of trust in Israel’s intentions, although some at certain points would like to believe that Olmert is sincere and genuine in his efforts.
Time is short. The situation is fluid and constantly changing. President Mahmoud Abbas has limited time to deliver the independent Palestinian state to his people. The Israeli Winograd committee’s dampening report investigating last summer’s war on Lebanon, and pressures from Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak are tightening the noose around Olmert’s neck to force him to resign from office or call for new Israeli elections. All the while, the time for President Bush in office is also shrinking fast, and his popularity is at an all-time low.
The volatile and unpredictable situation in the Middle East is a source of perpetual instability. Regional powers not interested in seeing a peace agreement concluded, can, at a time of their choosing, disrupt the whole process and render it unworkable.
Based on experience, the overwhelmingly right-wing Israeli public pushed by an extremely ruthless, if not fascist, right-wing media will abort any meaningful effort on the part of Olmert to achieve a peace agreement with Abbas.
As for President Bush, he is vulnerable and not in a position to resist any mounting pressure from the conservative Republicans, the American Congress and the Jewish lobby in Washington. Under such pressure, Bush is likely to instruct Secretary Rice to shelve any plans she might have to resolve the conflict.
In short, the next 12 months are very critical. What is certain is that much change will take place in the region, and perhaps the world. Only time will tell whether it is better or for worse.

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