For the first time in years the US and Israel are not seeing eye to eye regarding key issues. American policies in the Bush Administration's final stretch have two main parallel objectives: To enlist the support of "moderate" Arab states, primarily Saudi Arabia, for the sake of achieving calm in Iraq (perhaps the aggressive address delivered by the Saudi king against the US will dissipate this illusion,) and to prevent Shiite control of the Middle East and its oil reserves.
Although these two objectives are not connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the battered Administration has been forced to change its policies and to accommodate new ones, including the European Union's argument that that a connection should be naturally created between the two issues to placate Saudi Arabia and the Arab world in general.
In other words: Any type of advancement, even if just optical, on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is likely to serve the Americans as a lifeline on other fronts.
The problem is that the American lifeline is likely to turn into a burden from Israel's point of view. Israel, no less then the US and perhaps more so, is seeking the same objectives: Peace with the Arab world and the curbing of Iranian armament – but not at the hefty cost demanded by the Riyadh conference participants, for example.
Nonetheless, Olmert has already been forced to agree to a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, although Abbas is continuing to breach all his commitments, and despite the fact that since the establishment of the "unity government" he has in fact turned into Hamas' yes man.
These pressures will grow if the tendency to push Israel to accept the Saudi Initiative is accelerated.
Diplomatic situation more complex than ever
A lot of nonsense regarding this initiative has been sounded, while ignoring the fact that its objective is to diplomatically achieve everything the Arab world was unable to achieve through war and terror: The return of refugees and return to the borders of June 4th, 1967 that invited aggression. And let's not delude ourselves: The Arabs are not relating to these issues as points for negotiation, but rather, as a pre-condition to their actual willingness to engage in talks.
Their refusal to make any amendments to the plan only confirms it. Beyond this, it's also about future moves: Convening a conference attended by the international Quartet (US, Europe, Russia and the UN,) the Palestinians (namely, the Hamas government,) and another new creature called "The Arab Quartet" (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.)
In other words, Israel will find itself in a situation it has always tried to avoid: Isolated in an international forum whose composition is bad. Although there is no doubting the US' basic friendship, in the wake of its other problems there is no guarantee that America would want to stand up against other participants at such a conference.
How did we reach this grim situation? Israel's political and diplomatic activities in the past year have been rife with failures and errors. Whether this is due to lack of experience or neglect, Israel's diplomatic situation is more complex today than ever, particularly at a time so crucial for its future.