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Bush and Olmert Get That Peace Process Hoodoo

Who is not happy to see movement in the old dead limbs of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? The Bush administration wants to give the Palestinians a “diplomatic horizon”, and that must be better than “diplomatic isolation, economic blockade, and military occupation”.

Israeli PM Olmert, PA President Abbas, and US Secretary of State Rice will meet in Jerusalem next week for a summit. They may not actually discuss peace, but at least they’ll talk about the peace process. That will give folks back home a bit of good news, a welcome break from the war process. Maybe the old sentimental magic will work one more time: “The US has got the Israelis and Palestinians talking to each other. Perhaps the world is looking up!”

In a universe more proximate to reality, Olmert’s poll numbers have been in the tank since Israel’s atrocious, inept, and illegal war on Lebanon last summer. Now he’s the subject of a police probe into multiple allegations of abuse of office. Like past Israeli prime ministers in a tight spot, Olmert seeks the rituals of the peace process to restore his respectability and importance and give his ratings a sorely needed boost.

Olmert is being encouraged by Bush, who owes him one. In December, Olmert wanted to squeeze his peace process juice from Syrian President Assad’s offer of unconditional bi-lateral talks. Bush told him it was out of the question.

But Bush needs the peace process hoodoo just as much as Olmert does, if not more. So the US has become uncharacteristically “engaged in the process”, as if it could finally pull off some diplomacy in the Middle East that actually looks like diplomacy.

Once the image hits the brain, however, we see this “push for peace” is merely “pushing peace”, like selling a drug that takes the public to a Neverland where the military occupation of Iraq accomplishes its liberation.

Originally, the upcoming summit was billed as the kickoff for ‘final status’ negotiations. In preparation, Olmert announced that he would refuse to discuss Jerusalem, withdrawal to Israel’s borders, and the rights of Palestinian refugees. This goes beyond ‘non-starter’-it hides the keys to the car.

Even if Olmert was willing to be serious, he is too weak and vulnerable at home to lead Israel, inevitably kicking and screaming, into an agreement with the Palestinians. If he’s convicted of any of the current allegations he could wind up behind bars.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has his own mountain of political troubles, although graft is not one of them. Last week in Mecca his fractious Fatah party pledged to end months of street warfare with the majority Hamas party. Their accord requires the reassembly of the Palestinian Authority government, a process that has just begun and is not certain of success.

In normal diplomacy, you don’t launch negotiations when one of the parties is between governments. But that’s the wonderful thing about the vicious war on the Palestinians. They’re almost always ready to come to talks, whenever Israel and the US find it convenient to stage them.

The Israelis don’t even have to stop their daily kidnapping raids in the West Bank, or cease their relentless expansion of illegal settlements, or allow Palestinians back into the Jordan Valley, a huge chunk of the West Bank they have now virtually annexed. Israel can even use the extra diplomatic space its gains by being “ready to talk” to stage a major provocation or two.

Right on cue comes a blatantly illegal excavation and renovation project at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, with Olmert’s enthusiastic support. Maneuvers like these are designed to humiliate, inciting Palestinian anger that can be used to undermine the peace process.

An adroit Israeli prime minister can earn points for starting an episode of the peace process, and more points for ending it. By excluding the major issues before the summit begins, Olmert has ensured its failure, which will restore his right-wing Likud roots, soothe the noxious settlers, and win his ultimate Zionist badge of honor-for refusing to yield land and rights stolen from the Palestinians.

The US is bringing its own deal-killers to the summit. Advisors to Mr. Abbas have been told the US will not deal with any party in the new Palestinian government, because it will fall short of demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept past agreements. The US will speak only with Mr. Abbas and his office.

This expanded boycott may seriously undermine the rocky effort to put together the unity government, pushing occupied Palestine back into chaos in pursuit of the same failed policy.

Elliot Abrams, the “last neocon standing” in the Bush administration, has been encouraging and arming Fatah to crush Hamas for a year now. The result? A unity government agreement.

The US-enforced financial blockade against the PA has succeeded only in wrecking the Palestinians’ economy and social services and deepening their already alarming poverty.

But the US is undeterred by the rotten fruit of its policies. Now it says that Abbas must convince Hamas to knuckle under!

Remarkably, the Quartet (Russia, EU, UN, US) continues to support this pointless campaign to overturn a free and fair election. But there are signs the unanimity won’t last forever. Saudi Arabia, always among the wisest voices on this issue, is now poised to ignore the boycott and resume its financial aid to the PA.

Beset by failures, the Bush team needs the peace process in order to save face. They also need something that makes them look reasonable, even good, while they join Israel in whipping the dogs of war toward Iran. This is why they want to give the Palestinians a “diplomatic horizon”, not a deal they can accept.

This “horizon” is like the physical horizon facing millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, where the field of view now terminates at a concrete wall, or an electric fence bordered by razor wire and electronic sensors. It is the horizon of a prison, like the Gaza Strip, where the people remain incarcerated within Israel’s elaborate system of multiple fences and naval patrols, and suffer malnutrition thanks to Israel’s iron grip on their border crossings. Israeli officials say all this will remain in any ‘final status’ with the Palestinians.

In the summit’s final act, US and Israeli leaders will probably unite to dismiss the Palestinian position as “unrealistic”, even “provocative”, no matter how closely it resembles international law, UN Security Council resolutions, and the right to armed resistance to illegal military occupation. The Bush gang may even use the failure as an excuse to escalate its war on Hamas.

Welcome to the peace process.

JAMES BROOKS serves as webmaster for Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel. He can be contacted at


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