- Disagreement over the Palestinian file and disagreement over the Iranian file.
- Bush will publicly reiterate his support for Israel and the two countries’ friendship, but will insist on a return to negotiations regarding the implementation of the roadmap and the Sharm Al-Sheikh understandings.
- The Palestinian government is required to officially announce, soon, its commitment to international legitimacy resolutions, Arab summit resolutions, and the peace initiative of the late leader Yasser Arafat.
The visit of new Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to Washington could be the most sensitive one in the history of visits made by any of the former Israeli prime ministers to Washington. This visit could have a great impact on the strategic ties between the US and Israel, even if this is not apparent immediately.
The visit comes under complicated circumstances and at a time when the moment of President Bush’s departure from the White House looms on the horizon after two terms in office without achieving conclusive results in Afghanistan and Iraq or on the Israeli-Palestinian front. If we include the Iranian nuclear file and President Bush’s preoccupation with dealing with it, the complicated situation during which Olmert’s visit to Washington is taking place becomes clearer.
These circumstances, and the difference in US and Israeli points of view regarding steps that need to be taken in the Middle East to achieve the two-state (Israel and Palestine) solution, cause us to expect the US-Israeli meeting to be intensely heated, not just hot.
The Israeli-Palestinian file:
If we begin with the "hot/cold" file, the file of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for which President Bush proposed the roadmap to reach peace based on the "two states on the historic land of Palestine" solution, we find that the points of disagreement between the US administration and the Israeli government on a number of main points are much more than the points of agreement.
The US administration’s approval of Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip was based on this withdrawal being a complete evacuation of Israeli military presence from the Gaza Strip and a complete dismantling of the settlements, even if the withdrawal did not reach the desired point; that is, a complete handover of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
Olmert’s proposal for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank by which Israel keeps half of the West Bank, keeps the Jordan Valley area under its military control, and annexes vast areas of the West Bank through the annexation wall [also known as the Security Barrier and the Apartheid Wall], is utterly rejected by the US administration.
The US administration informed Olmert before the visit took place not to talk too much about a unilateral withdrawal and the drawing up of Israel’s borders by the Israeli government.
The points of disagreement are not, however, limited to Olmert’s proposal. The official US positions regarding a number of core issues indicate the depth of the disagreement between Washington and Tel Aviv. Among these issues are:
The official position regarding settlements constructed by Israel on lands it occupied in 1967 is based on international law and the Geneva treaty, which forbids the occupier from making any demographic changes in the occupied territories, and deems any change, construction or displacement an illegal and rejected action.
President Bush deviated from this rule when he promised Former Prime Minister Sharon not to pressure Israel into withdrawing from every inch it occupied in 1967; that is, the June 4th border. President Bush promised that he would not demand that Sharon dismantle all settlements because some settlements had become cities and this reality cannot be ignored. At the time, he was referring to Maale Adummim and Ariel, but since then the Israeli government has been working day and night to transform these "major gatherings" into five cities instead of two. The minutes of the Taba negotiations undoubtedly point this out clearly.
The US administration has asked the Israeli government more than once to fulfill its promise to stop settlement expansion operations and settlement activities in accordance with what was agreed upon at more than one meeting.
The US administration has called for this publicly using gentle diplomatic language, but its behind-the-scenes messages used clearer language, and talks during meetings were tougher.
The US administration’s official position on the annexation wall is known and well-defined. While leading US foreign policy, Powell more than once stressed that the US does not oppose the construction of a security wall as long as it is not inside Palestinian territories and is on Israeli land or on the border.
The US administration called on the Israeli government more than once to stop constructing this wall on Palestinian lands because of the separation it causes between residents and their lands, and because it is unacceptable to construct the wall on Palestinian lands because it means annexing large areas of Palestinian lands to Israel, especially in the areas of Jerusalem, the north of the West Bank and Hebron in the south.
The US is resentful over Israel not meeting its demands based on the roadmap, especially the first stage.
Israel has previously been able to deceive the US more than once through false and fake reports regarding a great number of issues, both related to the Palestinian situation and the Middle Eastern situation. Matters are different now, however, and have been different for years. The United States’ information comes directly from US administration staff or staff in the region, either in Palestine or in the Middle East in general. There is no doubt that it has precise information on everything Israel is doing in the West Bank.
Based on this, President Bush knows that Olmert’s statement that Israel has carried out phase one of the roadmap while the Palestinian Authority has not is completely untrue.
Israel has not fulfilled its pledges from the first and second Sharm Al-Sheikh understandings. In fact it has done everything that could be called a blatant violation of pledges and agreements while its constant aggression against the Palestinian Authority has not resulted in it meetings its obligations.
Even with regards to (what appears to be the two sides’ agreement on) the evaluation of Hamas, which won an overwhelming majority in the last parliamentary election and based on that formed the new Palestinian government, anyone who looks closely at the US and Israeli positions sees a clear difference.
Israel has increased assassinations (which the US administration asked it to stop more than once and because of which General Zeivi resigned), the tearing apart of Palestinian lands, the suffocating siege on the Palestinian people, the setting up of thousands of barriers, and depriving the Palestinians of moving around and moving their goods from one area to another.
The US administration demanded, and continues to demand, Israel to do the complete opposite, but the Israeli government has used sweet lying words on the US administration and has imposed suffering on the Palestinians. The US administration knows this and resents this, but it follows a calm public policy in which the Israeli-American disagreements do not show.
If we look again at the circumstances under which Olmert’s visit is taking place, we can be certain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be the main issue discussed by both sides, and that the discussion’s atmosphere will be heated, even if this is not announced.
President Bush will ask Olmert to meet with President Mahmud Abbas immediately after Olmert’s return, and to give up on his usual introduction of "no Palestinian partner". Bush will also ask him to ease the suffocating procedures that Israel imposes on the Palestinian people, affecting their movement and their jobs.
A joint Israeli-American committee will be formed to study the "possible final borders for the state of Israel". As usual, President Bush will announce the United States’ commitment to supporting Israel, ensuring its security, helping it and providing compensation for a withdrawal. He will praise Olmert and reiterate the close strategic ties between the two countries.
This will not, however, obliterate the heated discussion that took place inside closed rooms regarding the need to rush to find a solution through reaching an understanding with the Palestinians based on the roadmap before the end of President Bush’s second term in office.
All that remains for us to say on the Middle East file (the peace process) is that these days President Bush is careful to keep his European allies close to the US. He has many other major issues relating to major areas and economic and environmental issues and he is interested in having Europe stand with the US on them.
As the European Union is not pleased with Olmert’s plan for unilaterally drawing up the borders in the West Bank, Bush will not give his consent to this plan and will ask Olmert to return to negotiations to implement the roadmap. The European Union has asked President Bush to bring matters back to the roadmap and to shorten its stages.
Europe blames the Israeli occupation for the deteriorating Palestinian economic and living conditions, and rejects the wall’s route and the annexation of lands in the West Bank.
There is no doubt that President Bush will take the European and Russian positions into account in his talks with Olmert. If President Bush publicly (for diplomatic and American Jewish reasons) shows that he has not closed the door to Olmert’s unilateral opinions (which will not be what happened and was said inside closed rooms), he will not do it.
With regards to the Iranian nuclear crisis, the second file on the agenda for the Bush-Olmert meeting will be the Iranian nuclear file. This file has been and still is a main topic between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has passed in different stages through the joint American-Israeli strategic committee as some strategists at the Pentagon had proposed that Israel bomb Iranian nuclear reactors and missile and heavy weapon depots. It was agreed to prepare for this as if it would take place until a joint decision was made.
Indeed, the department of strategic planning in the Israeli Defense Ministry drew up a plan that was presented to the joint committee. Modifications were made to the plan, and the final draft was approved. The US supplied Israeli with a thousand "bunker busters", which is a heavy bomb (the biggest in military arsenals) capable of going eight floors deep into the ground, in preparation for the planned air strike.
The Israeli Air force trained pilots to carry out the plan. More than once it sent Israeli submarines to the Arab Gulf for surveillance and to study the possibility of launching Tomahawk missiles from those submarines, which were supplied to Israel by Germany.
Special units of the Israeli intelligence service set up secret spying station on Iraqi lands neighboring Iran. The Israeli spy satellite focused on the Iranian nuclear reactors.
Everything remained at this level while, over the past months, the Iranian nuclear file was the topic of discussion between:
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran.
- The IAEA and the United Nations.
- The IAEA and the US, Europe and Russia.
- Iran and the European Troika (Germany/France/Britain), Iran and the IAEA, Iran and Russia, and Iran and the UN.
Most importantly, this file remained a topic of discussion between the US and its European allies.
The US position fluctuated between taking preventive measures through the Security Council to giving Europe a chance to find a political solution as well as conferring with Russia over the Iranian Uranium enrichment project on its land and indicating that the use of force was not ruled out.
The tug-of-war has continued until now, but the option of having Israel launch an air strike remained on the table between the US and Israel.
The US used all means at its disposal to pressure Iran into putting an end to its nuclear activities, starting with pressuring its European allies, then the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab states, Russia, the Security Council, and the IAEA.
When the US confronted its allies over submitting the Iranian file to the Security Council to impose sanctions, it was confronted with a different logic from its allies, and that same logic from the IAEA and Russia.
Here the latest European proposal emerged: supplying Iran with nuclear reactors for civilian purposes in exchange for it abandoning its nuclear program. The US administration dealt calmly and wisely with its allies and promised to study the matter. The topic of sanctions against Iran was not presented to the Security Council, but the US continued pressure towards it. It leaked news of its plans to isolate Iran from the world.
One of these leaks is the news westerns officials revealed that the US has prepared a six-point strategy aimed at "having the international community isolate Iran financially" because of its nuclear program.
An unnamed western official told AFP two days ago: "The goal is to isolate the Iranian regime by creating a dynamic by which the international financial community will isolate Iran and its main figures". He said that the specific goals of this plan are:
- Financially isolate supporters of the spread of weapons of mass destruction in Iran.
- Financially isolate officials in the Iranian regime who are in involved in illegal activities.
- Close the Iranian government’s accounts.
- Freeze the Iranian government’s accounts.
- Prevent the allocation of export loans for projects that benefit the Iranian government.
An official stated that the US strategy document states: "Given the international financial situation in Iran, the US needs to ask for help from Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Japan separately."
The US Secretary of State had stated that any military solution was unlikely. Blair had made a statement saying that the use of force and launching a nuclear strike against Iran was inconceivable.
In other words, the political and diplomatic developments in the Iranian nuclear file have shown that the option to strike at Iran is no longer in the front-runner and is possibly in the shadows now. This means that Israel’s use of this file as a way to gain Washington’s support for its expansion plan is no longer as strong as it was before, and it may have faded.
In addition, US diplomats, who headed to the Gulf and Arab countries to urge these countries to announce a clear position rejecting the Iranian nuclear program, were told that all these countries agree with President Bush in his fears regarding the intentions of the Iranian program, but that Israel’s nuclear arsenal needs to be included too.
This is also what Iran told the Europeans. Every time the Europeans discussed the nuclear file with Iran, Iran would rush to have Israel’s nuclear arsenal at the forefront of topics to discuss. Also, Egypt has been waging a campaign for a while for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destructions, and this specifically means Israel.
Thus, instead of the military strike against Iran being leverage for Olmert’s expansionist position, Israel is now required to do certain things with regards to the nuclear club, the least of which is to sign the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaty and submit its old reactor to the supervision of the IAEA.
Talks between Washington and Tel Aviv will be heated here too. Washington will offer unprecedented security guarantees such as positioning US nuclear launchers somewhere in Israel to defend it if it is ever in danger. At the end, though, Israel will have to go back to the roadmap. It will try to bypass this and delay matters until Bush’s term is over so a new president will come into power and start with the ABC’s of the Middle East as before.
Things will be no different from before unless the Palestinian side works with courage and wisdom within a clear vision without hesitation. When we mention the Palestinian side we specifically mean the Palestinian government.
The Palestinian government and its head, Ismail Haniya, are required to show, immediately and publicly, the following:
First: The Palestinian government is fully committed to international legitimacy resolutions, especially the resolutions related to the Palestinian territories and cause.
Second: The Palestinian government abides by the resolutions of Arab summits and other summits, such as those of the Non-Aligned countries and the Islamic Conference, which were approved by the PLO and previous Palestinian governments.
Third: The Palestinian government is willing to immediately begin negotiations over the final solution based on Israel’s withdrawal from all lands it occupied in 1967, the removal of all settlers, and the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Fourth: The solution of having two states on the historic land of Palestine is the solution that will pave the road to peace.
Fifth: All this is based on the peace initiative launched by the late leader Yasser Arafat before the UN General Assembly on December 13th 1988 in Geneva. He based it on the program approved by the Palestinian National Council (the highest Palestinian legislative body) in its session held in Algeria on November 15th 1988.
Such a statement, which will unequivocally demonstrate the Palestinian government’s commitment to the peace process and what was agreed upon by leadership bodies headed by Yasser Arafat, will set things straight and put the ball back in the court of those who dream of destroying what the Palestinian people have built with their blood, sacrifices and pain over the past five decades.
History will not go backwards. History will not wait for those who stand to watch and those who hesitate. Never in history has a people’s dream been achieved with a knockout blow, but with the accumulation and continuation of sacrifices.
Peoples’ experiences accumulate expertise to pass it on to future generations or to those who were elected by the people to be in charge. Those who are elected by the people for the first time do not start from scratch; they are handed the wealth of information that has accumulated through sacrifices and pain and set off towards the future to achieve what the accumulations have not yet been able to achieve.