Still waiting for Washington

The Arabs are ready, but the administration still hesitates to push the parties toward a breakthrough.

By DAOUD KUTTAB
March 13, 2007 20:53
2 minute read.
Still waiting for Washington

kuttab88. (photo credit: )

It was no surprise that Sunday's meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert failed to produce any breakthroughs. Without a strong pro-active role for the US, little will happen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US is showing greater interest, but US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice still lacks the kind of presidential backing needed to move things forward. Until intervention by the White House is forthcoming, other players will fill the vacuum. For example, Saudi Arabia, which led the talks that produced the Mecca agreement, remains crucial. The Saudis, who were recently visited by the Iranian president, are preparing for the upcoming Arab League summit. That meeting will no doubt produce a revised version of the Arab peace plan. Israelis are hoping to influence the wording of the plan's references to the Palestinian right of return. The combination of the Mecca agreement, the agreed-upon Palestinian national unity government, and an expected post-summit initiative will provide Arabs with a strong peace plank. The inclusion of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's designee (or one with his confidence) in the Abbas entourage to the Arab League would be a show of unity and an opportunity to leverage Arab and international support for a single Arab peace push. THE HOPE is that Hamas's inclusion in the Palestinian delegation will weaken US and Israeli opposition to the unity government. If a Hamas "representative" attends the meeting expected to approve a new Arab peace plan - one acceptable to the international community - this will make the plan binding on the unity government, and, indirectly on Hamas itself. Abbas, meanwhile, has floated a suggestion by which both Fatah and Hamas commit to a total cease-fire in Gaza and the West Bank and the cessation of Kassam rockets from Gaza, in return for Israel dropping its opposition to the unity government. Israel, whose prime minister is shackled with many internal problems, may be too weak to make bold agreements - even though some of Ehud Olmert's advisers probably think this could be one way out of the mess he is in. They recall that former prime minister Ariel Sharon was able to shake off all the talk about corruption when he presented the Gaza disengagement plan. GAZA CONTINUES to be a source of worry among Palestinians. Since February 15 Israelis have been stamping the passports of foreigners crossing the Erez checkpoint to and from Gaza. Palestinians from Jerusalem who used to go to Gaza with a permit are now expected to produce a laisser-passer (temporary passport) and a permit. Palestinians are extremely worried that the separation of Gaza from the West Bank (as well as Jerusalem from the West Bank) is becoming a reality on the ground. The idea of an independent Palestinian state with territorial contiguity is becoming little more than a slogan with no practical application on the ground. In the final analysis, despite growing a Arab and international consensus for peace (best reflected in the speech Jordan's King Abdullah gave to Congress last week), the US continues to hesitate in taking the concrete steps necessary to push the parties together in a serious way.


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