Undermining nascent political efforts

The Winograd report has shaken the domestic Israeli political scene and as a consequence seems also to have undermined the political contacts between the Israeli and Palestinian political leaderships, recently instigated by a relatively active American diplomacy.

The US administration has apparently realized that its previous policy of non-interference in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict contributed to its deterioration. Instead, Washington has begun to show an emergent interest, illustrated by successive visits from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as several prominent members of Congress.

The latest and probably most significant and practical example of a more hands-on US approach is the American benchmarks scheme that was presented to the two sides near the end of April. This scheme has as its objective the implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which has up until now been almost completely ignored by Israel.

The Americans have also realized that deterioration not only in the political but also the economic situation in Palestine will only contribute further to the radicalization of the Palestinian public and that Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and their products are the primary cause of this economic deterioration. If the radicalization and economic deterioration process is to be halted and the peace camp in Palestine re-empowered, these closures must end.

The Winograd report, which of course has nothing directly to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is causing paralysis in the Israeli political system that will prevent any meaningful political developments vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

This is not unprecedented. There were several historical occasions on which internal Israeli developments undermined political processes or prevented third party initiatives. That it is happening again can be seen by the recent American decision to postpone Rice’s next visit. The regular biweekly meetings between Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are also in jeopardy.

Blocking developments on the Palestinian-Israeli front will in turn complicate the internal Palestinian situation. The recent political engagement between the two sides, no matter how preliminary it has been, was reflecting positively on the internal Palestinian situation. It was empowering the president and allowing for a healthy division of labor in which the Hamas-majority government was getting used to the role of the president in pursuing political negotiations on the basis of signed agreements and the relevant provisions of international law and Arab resolutions as stipulated by the Mecca agreement.

Another casualty of these internal Israeli developments is the planned diplomatic initiative of some Arab governments, particularly Egypt and Jordan, to activate the Arab peace initiative. Jordan has been pursuing areas of activity that aim at influencing Israeli public opinion and creating a healthy dialogue on the public level as well the governmental.

Such developments will unfortunately further strengthen the argument of Palestinian groups opposed to the political process and the peaceful resolution of the conflict that Israel is again escaping international efforts to bring back the two sides to the negotiating table.

Even if this crisis ends quickly, it will leave the current Israeli leadership in a weaker position and consequently in a less conducive situation for peace.

Ultimately, it is the absence of clear messages from the international community, especially Washington, which allows Israel to play the role of the spoiler. More than ever, the international community, especially Europe and the US, is invited to make Israel understand that escaping its obligation to end the occupation in order to make peace will negatively affect world relations with Israel. If this does not happen, there will only be further radicalization in the region in general.