Winograd as diplomatic formaldehyde

Now nobody should expect serious progress to come from the Arab League working team's arrival in Israel.

May 2, 2007 00:47
2 minute read.
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An Arab League working team made up of representatives from Egypt and Jordan is expected to arrive in the coming days to discuss with government officials the Arab Peace Initiative re-launched at the end of March in Riyadh. The Winograd Committee interim report won't prevent the team's arrival. What the report will prevent, however, is the likelihood of anything substantial coming out of their visit, or - more immediately - the likelihood that representatives from other Arab countries with whom Israel has no ties would be willing to take part in the meetings any time soon. It is no secret that Israel would like some symbolic act of recognition from states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar or any of the other Arab League states with whom it does not have any ties, in order to strengthen the position of those Palestinians who would like to reach some accommodation with Israel.

Winograd report: The fallout
If, for instance, Saudi Arabia would publicly recognize Israel, or give it legitimacy, it would significantly weaken the position of Hamas, which refuses to do so. But place yourself in the position of Saudi King Abdullah right now. Say you are petrified of Iran, and fearful of growing Shi'ite radicalism that is threatening your regime. Say you also want to move closer to Israel, and you are even considering a handshake with the Israeli prime minister, a move that would have huge significance in the Arab world. Would you shake hands with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today, not knowing whether tomorrow you might wake up grasping not Olmert's hand, but rather that of the Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu? For the foreseeable future, all major diplomatic steps are frozen. Sure, meetings will be held. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will come back here later in the month and meet again with Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Foreign Ministry officials will continue holding dialogues with their European counterparts. The Quartet will meet. The G-8 summit will talk about the Middle East situation. But the chances of anything significant happening on the diplomatic front for the foreseeable future - or at least until the Israeli domestic diplomatic picture clears up - are slim. Maintenance, not initiative, will be the name of the diplomatic game that will be played here over the next few weeks, even months, until the storm over Winograd passes and the political scene stabilizes. This places Olmert in a bind. On the one hand he desperately needs a dramatic diplomatic step to breathe life into his fading political career. But on the other hand, it is unlikely that anyone on the other side will be willing to take such a step not knowing whether Olmert will be around in two months to see the dance through. In the meantime, therefore, everyone will continue going through the motions. Olmert, Rice, Abbas, even the Arab League representatives from Jordan and Egypt. But until the domestic political situation in Israel straightens itself out, there will be much more of what was seen in the last few months in the run-up to the publication of the Winograd Report: motion without movement, motion for motion's sake.

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