Everything is just perfect, really. The US president is friendly and he is showing a sincere fondness for our prime minister. They are both transmitting on the same wavelength and their intentions are good. There's only one minor problem: Their new vision regarding the Palestinian question is just a castle in the sand.
It is doubtful whether they believe in it. It is doubtful whether anyone does.
When Hamas took over Gaza, the message coming from Jerusalem and Washington was optimistic: With all the regret over losing Gaza to Hamas, something positive happened - the true colors of Hamas were revealed; two states had been established: Hamastan in Gaza and Fatah-land in the West Bank. The world, it appeared, would boycott Hamas while Israel and the US would back the Fatah government where funds would be channeled. The Fatah regime will be given security aid and a final-status agreement will be negotiated with it.
It appears that all the experts on the Palestinian issue are in agreement that this is nothing but an illusion. Firstly, the separation (between Gaza and the West Bank) is unacceptable to the Palestinians. Fatah has not forfeited Gaza (except for a few members of the Palestinian leadership who did, including the new Prime Minister Salam Fayyad), and Hamas has not forfeited the West Bank. Secondly, Fatah is so divided and disputed internally that it is doubtful whether it would be capable of stabilizing a regime that would meet the expectations of the US and Israel.
Sense of relief
The hundreds of millions of dollars set to be channeled to the West Bank, primarily from American funds and later from the customs withheld by Israel, will not suffice for creating a government. In the worst-case scenario they will be squandered by corruption. In the better-case scenario a little of what was destroyed in the Palestinian Authority over the past few years will be restored. But it won't make the difference.
"I didn't say I was optimistic," Olmert told us Tuesday evening. "I only said that an opportunity has presented itself." This sounds like a play on words, and indeed it is. Olmert saw the distressing images from Gaza and he believed the world would lift the pressure of talking to a Palestinian government that includes a murderous organization. He felt a sense of relief. Yet it is just temporary relief. It cannot even remotely advance Israel's security vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
The talk about negotiations for a comprehensive deal with Mahmoud Abbas' cabinet is nothing but idle chatter. The gap in the positions has remained as is, but the partner has weakened from one campaign to another. What exactly would Israel negotiate with Abbas, security arrangements in Gaza?
Nonetheless, it is doubtful whether Bush and Olmert have an alternative for the virtual vision they presented Tuesday. What Olmert said would probably have been said by any Israeli statesman in a similar situation.
Both are at a nadir in public opinion polls. The point is that while Olmert's situation has improved somewhat as of late, Bush's situation has worsened. Levi Eshkol was once informed that there was a drought. Where? he asked. In Israel, he was told. Thank God, he responded, when there's a drought in the US I am much more concerned.
The Bush Administration is currently caught in a heavy drought.