The Gaza Strip takeover by Hamas disrupted all the plans, not just in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, but for the entire region. None of the regional players have a recipe for handling the split and schism created in the Palestinian camp and everyone fears its implications.
The Palestinians are in deep depression and many of them have given up the possibility of having their own state. In Israel, Hamastan in Gaza and Fatahland in the West Bank are starting to be seen as a permanent situation; politicians and academicians in Washington and Israel have begun reviving the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, a prospect that horrifies the Jordanian king.
Meanwhile, moderate Arab states were forced to boost Mahmoud Abbas' status in the Sharm al-Sheikh summit while at the same time urging reconciliation with Hamas.
Even Iran and Syria, which lauded Hamas' victory, are now calling for reuniting the Palestinian camp in order not to undermine the struggle against Israel.
This state of affairs, whereby regional leaders are confused and perplexed, with each one attempting to formulate his own Palestinian policy, threatens the Mideastern pro-western camp's unity. President Bush, who currently needs every ounce of support and assistance he can garner from regional pro-western regimes, cannot allow himself to create cracks in his camp.
Disagreements between and with regional leaders over the Palestinian question could later come back to haunt him in Iraq, and on the Iranian front too when the time comes. Therefore, he was quick to deliver his speech Monday and outline clear guidelines for handling the situation that has emerged in the Palestinian arena.
This was not a hasty, improvised response. Rather, policymakers in Washington waited for several weeks, consulted with regional leaders and with the international Quartet, and formulated a policy that would, they estimated, produce two results: Firstly, it would be adopted by all players in the theater (with the exception of Iran and Syria,) thus enabling them to work together in order to secure clear objectives and goals. Secondly, it would deprive Hamas of international legitimacy and boost Mahmoud Abbas' status.
Another objective of the Bush speech Monday was to bolster the American president's leadership status in the Mideastern and domestic arena. It was an opportunity to show Congress, as well as regional leaders, that the United States, despite its failure in Iraq, is the number one global and regional superpower and that its president does not shy away from outlining clear guidelines that everyone is supposed to adopt.
Decisive anti-Hamas line
The speech itself did not contain many new ideas aside form the announcement regarding a regional conference to be convened by the US in the fall on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The mere announcement regarding the conference aimed to signal that Bush, in his last year as president, has no intention of giving up and ceasing his efforts to advance a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Another novelty and an important component in the speech was the decisive anti-Hamas line adopted by Bush. No negotiations, no cooperation, and no aid to the radical Islamic group until it agrees to recognize Israel and renounce the armed struggle against it.
This was a big hint to Abbas aimed at warning him against any attempt to form a new national unity government, and also served as a signal to the Saudis, Egyptians, and Qataris to refrain from pushing Abbas into Khaled Mashaal's arms.
Bush presented to each regional leader, and particularly to Olmert and Abbas, a series of demands and tests that will prompt the world and the US to offer any assistance possible should they be met.
Bush does not hide his intention to entice the Palestinians to follow Abbas and abandon Hamas. Abbas received a pledge for about $400 million should he undertake the required reforms and refrain from terror. Israel received a less detailed but nonetheless determined promise that the US would stand by it on every issue should it evacuate West Bank outposts, ease the plight of Palestinians, and assist Abbas.
In addition, Bush made sure to confirm his support for the notion of an impendent Palestinian state alongside Israel in order to calm Jordan's King Abdullah, who fears attempts to annex the Palestinians in the West Bank to his kingdom.
Bush also took the opportunity to express his support and give his blessing to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will be representing the Quartet in the region. Bush clearly hinted that Blair will in fact serve as his personal envoy.
At this time, it is difficult to assess how the speech will affect regional countries, if at all. Yet there is no doubt that Washington had to have its say at this time and that President Bush said it in a clear and decisive manner.