These visits show that the American Administration is considering not only steps that would extract it from the Iraq mess, but even wider Middle-Eastern moves.
The Gordian knot that at this time ties the Administration's objectives and Israel's objectives will not immune us in the face of certain steps that may be planned these days. It may even create difficulties in the future within the new Democratic-controlled Congress.
There is significance to the fact that shortly after Ehud Olmert left the White House, former Secretary of State under Bush Sr., James Baker, entered. Baker now co-heads the Iraq Study Group (along with Lee Hamilton) established by Congress in order to recommend ways that will pull the US out of the Iraqi quagmire.
Those in the know in Washington believe that similarly to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in his speech two weeks ago argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the heart of the problem in the Middle East, and that if a quick solution isn't found it would be impossible to put an end to violence in Iraq – Baker and his team will also tie together in their recommendations the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq situation.
Perhaps not as a complete solution to the storm in Iraq, but rather, as a means for enlisting the support of at least part of the Arab world, and for placing an obstacle before Iran, who is taking advantage of developments in Iraq (and Lebanon) in order to advance its geopolitical and strategic interests throughout the Mideast.
The visits by the American President and his deputy must therefore be understood in that context. There is no need for particularly sharp brains to recall the linkage to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the same James Baker espoused in the first Gulf War. Indeed, there is no certainty that the current President Bush will buy into this merchandize as it is, but we cannot assume he would be able to ignore it completely. The current meetings are the proof of that.
Would these recommendations lead to an international Mideast conference, as many in Washington assume? It's hard to know, as Bush is still far from showing enthusiasm for it. Yet we should hope that Olmert directed the conversation with his host, in addition to the Iran question, to these issues as well, as the emerging trend will inevitably lead to difficult demands on Israel.
We do not know whether Olmert raised his own proposals and what he meant when he spoke about generous promises to the Palestinians. What should have certainly been raised in the meeting with Bush were the pledges he made at the time to former Prime Minister Sharon regarding the principles that would lead the US on the question of Israel's future borders and the question of Palestinian refugees.
In light of the new developments in Washington and in other world capitals, it would not hurt to further reinforce these pledges, particularly as Abdullah would presumably propose that his Saudi initiative of 2002 be placed at the center of US diplomatic activity. As we recall, this initiative fundamentally contradicts the above-mentioned Bush pledges.