The present US effort undertaken by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to kick start the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis–as envisioned by the Baker-Hamilton Report–is for now, a mere symbolic gesture. There are three major obstacles that must be overcome, if the Bush administration wants to realize its endorsement of a two-state solution.
First, Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular and is engulfed in numerous scandals. It is unlikely that Olmert will survive. Fresh elections will have to be scheduled to form a new Israeli government–likely to be a coalition government–this will delay the implementation of the road map. Despite Olmert’s obvious weakness, his government like its predecessor has sanctioned the construction of fresh settlements in West Bank– a move intended to foil the US attempts to re-start the peace process. The proposal elucidated by Israel’s Foreign Minister to advance negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, which includes pseudo final status termed ‘political horizon’ is meaningless unless Israel puts a halt to fresh settlement activity and stops the excavation of Al-Aqsa mosque. The tactic of supporting the peace-process and then simultaneously undermining it to provoke the Palestinians into violence is an indelible feature of Israeli politics.
Second, the US under Israeli pressure refused to negotiate with Hamas and instead favoured Abbas to form a new unity government. It must be remembered that it was Abbas’s government, which Israel systematically destroyed, and left the door ajar for Hamas to fill the political void and emerge victorious in the parliamentary election held last year. Olmert then proceeded to exploit Hamas’s militant credentials and its repudiation of Israel to cut short Palestinian demands for peace and continued unilaterally to redefine the road map.
Nevertheless, Israel’s defeat in Lebanon destroyed Olmert’s plan and presented the US with another opportunity to move the peace process forward. The US instructed Abbas to form a new government and told Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria to reign in Hamas and forge a unity government with Fatah.
If the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas fails to hold –the likelihood is very high–then America will want Abbas to convene fresh elections to consolidate the power of his Fatah party. Already the US, Israel and the EU have offered Abbas aid to augment his security forces in order to offset Hamas. The tussle between Hamas and Fatah will present Israel the pretext to unilaterally shape the peace process in the absence of a viable Palestinian partner. When Hamas and Fatah are not squabbling with one another, they will be busy retaliating against Israeli aggression in the occupied territories. This cycle of violence will pervade much of foreseeable future, stalling the quartet’s efforts to make headway on the road map.
Third, even if the US succeeds in forming unity governments in both Israel and Palestine, there is little the Bush and the Republican Party can do to rejuvenate the road map. With the 2008 US general elections looming, the Republican Party, as well as the Democratic Party requires the Jewish lobby’s support to get elected. The castigation of Jimmy Carter’s new book about Palestine, demonstrates the power of the Jewish lobby over US foreign policy in Palestine.
All of this means that it will be 2009 before the US is able to mount enough pressure to coerce Israel to make necessary compromises with the Palestinians, and bring an end to the protracted dispute.