Friday, September 21, 2007

Here we go again...

As Israel was declaring the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity", Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began preparations for a new round of talks in November with his Palestinian counter-part Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert has bowed recently to popular pressure following response to his Deputy Prime Minister's statements that Israel would consider dividing Jerusalem in two. The city of Jerusalem has been a sticking point in peace talks between Israel and Palestinian leaders. The Palestinians want a divided Jerusalem as a dual capital and a return to the boundary lines of 1967 following the Six Day War, as laid out in U.N. resolution 242. Deputy Minister Ramon sparked outrage and protests among Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, when he suggested that Israel adopt resolution 242 in its upcoming talks with Abbas' government.

As a result Olmert, who has been under heavy fire from opposition parties, has backed down from the plan as laid out by Ramon. He wishes, instead, to have the talks lay out "general principles." Unfortunately for Olmert, the Bush White House is having none of that. While Olmert is afraid for his legacy, Bush faces much the same dilemma as his predecessor Clinton did. Recently it seems that everyone's favorite pet project upon leaving the power is the Palestinian "problem." Bush seeks to succeed where Clinton's Camp David talks failed, and he has dispatched Condoleezza Rice to make that emminently clear to Mr. Olmert.

One of the men in line to replace Olmert is Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak is seen by many Israelis as the sensible alternative to the more hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu. Barak has urged Olmert not to bow to pressure from Washington. Barak spoke with Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, and claimed Bush wanted a "withdrawal from Israeli principles that have stood for 40 years, merely to gain favor in the eyes of an American president who is leaving office in a year." Ouch....

However, this is just more posturing from Barak who seeks to recover Labor Party leadership from Mr. Olmert. Barak is widely seen as the popular candidate to restore tarnished confidence in the Israeli army with his military credentials and provide reason in the debate of the status of the Palestinians. His opponent Binyamin Netanyahu represents the right-wing Likud party and stands ready to take over should Barak and the Labor party stumble. This partisanship is precisely the reason that the November peace summit in New York will be yet another dismal failure in a string of dismal failures. Neither the Palestinians or the Israelis have ever been able to deliver on substantial promises and as a result have ceased to trust one another. Israel whose Knesset is made up of 18 political parties with shifting allegiances, struggles to make controversial concessions such as cessation of settlement building. The Palestinians, especially under the late Yassir Arafat, consistently fail to control its many militia groups. The principle cause of the failures is the inability of the U.S. and others to acknowledge the internal idealogical struggles of the Palestinians and Israelis. Until all aspects of Israel and Palestine can come to terms with an agreement there will be no Palestinian state.

Recently, the Palestinian Authority was split in two when Hamas ejected Fatah security men and officials from the Gaza strip. Abbas responded by dissolving the Hamas-led government and Gaza has been isolated ever since. President Abbas has since become become the golden boy of the West as they attempt to ply the stick-and-carrot method to the Palestinians. There are some signs that Palestinians are tiring of Hamas' heavy-handed methods in Gaza. As they have attempted to enforce more Islamic morals on the populace there, some Gazans responded with street protests.

Olmert's government probably seeks to isolate Hamas in Gaza in preparation for his upcoming summit. However, Hamas isn't just going to disappear. For one, it is not a movement isolated in Gaza, it has members in the West Bank and many of its senior leadership is in exile. If Olmert and Abbas are sincere in their wishes for a peaceful resolution to years of bloodshed, all aspects of Israel and a future Palestine should be involved. A lame duck Israeli Prime Minister and a hamstringed Palestinian President cannot possibly hope to achieve lasting peace by themselves.