There are four sides to the Annapolis initiative. Each one of them can contribute to its success and all of them for the time being are going in the same direction. However internal problems in Israel and more so amongst Palestinians and Arabs will lead them to no conclusion. And therefore the only possible solution will have to be Sharon’s Solution i.e. for Israel to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank to the borders agreed in the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters of 14th April 2004.
1. The US side: A general view is prevalent that if only America can lean on Israel, everything will come right. This is a naïve understanding of the situation on the ground. America is poised between two main allies and influences and at this minute in time luckily for us they coincide; but for how long? America sees Israel as its Hawaii in the Middle East. It can not trust any other country in the region. In the Mediterranean, Lebanon is erupting, Syria is scheming and Egypt is imploding. Further inland Iran casts its shadow on Iraq and the Gulf gaining succour from Russia and China. A nascent Cold War is showing signs of revival. America does not need to lean on Israel. Israel has no alternative but to be de facto the 51st State. Its situation dictates that and indeed it has been acting that role in all spheres since Suez. America adopted that stance from 1967 onwards.
2 The Israel side: Inside Israel today public opinion and the balance of political forces in the Knesset are nationalistic right wing. And yet despite that, the vast majority of the population are for peace, once they believe it is real. The US administration knows this and Olmert knows this too, that is why from their different angles they need and want to catch the opportunity to put a stop to a conflict that is harming both countries.
Sharon realised that the occupied territories had become an existential threat for Israel. He acted unilaterally on Gaza because he knew he could not attain his objective in a lengthy process. He concluded that he needed to walk out while it was possible. Olmert is of the identical opinion. But his fragile coalition dictated that he needed to give up the West Bank through negotiations. He too realised that if he waited too long Israel might not find a "taker" The alternative then will be a one unified state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean that would evolve - by default.
3. The Arab side: America’s other real allies in the region are Saudi Arabia and its Gulf satellites. Iran is a threat to their economic interests: the oil and the vast dollar-absorbing financial centres in the Gulf. There is a clear and complete identity of interest there. That is why Saudi Arabia was at Annapolis now and in Beirut then with its famous initiative.
The historic rivalry between Shia and Sunni provides a historic backdrop of enmity that accentuates the underlying material conflicts today. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are using this theological camouflage which echoes well in their streets to hide the real conflict of their rulers.
It is convenient for all parties to use Israel as a proxy and a patsy. Russia is resuming its Cold War with the West using the historical buffer country of Iran. Europe, as always, wants to have the cake and eat it. Sheltering under the US umbrella they can afford to pretend neutrality.
4. The Palestinian Side: Israel should be worried about the pincers of Gaza and the West Bank arching over it. For the sake of an enduring co-existence and avoidance of future conflagrations, these two parts of Palestine need to be separated and made to orientate in different directions. Hamas today is a great help! However instead of relieving this tight grip, Israel seems hell bent on converging them. In fact they are playing into the hands of the supposed Palestinians’ protectors and Israel’s presumed peace partners: Egypt and Jordan. Egypt has kept Gaza under Israeli rule to prevent spilling political turmoil into their country. A similar situation prevailed since the 6-Day War on the Jordan River. Their interest is to keep the status quo. It is incredibly foolish of the Israelis to be blind to this situation for so long. While keeping Gaza isolated from the West Bank Israel should encourage open borders between Gaza and Sinai to give vent for a pressured population to find vents and escapes.
The Saudis too were happy till recently to keep Israel as the whipping baddy. But instead of helping the refugees they doled out enormous amounts of money to corrupt Palestinian leaders in order to keep a convenient status quo. Here comes the threat from Iran and all the three suddenly need Israel, the only power in the region to stand up to Iran and to ensure that America moves in the same direction.
But instead of perceiving non-Arab Iran as a natural ally like Turkey, Israel’s politicians went out of their way to position themselves at the head of Iran’s enemies harming America diplomatically without gaining any added advantage. Instead of working quietly inside the anti-Ahmedinejad pack Israeli politicians position themselves at the top and rushed vociferously to lead it.
5. HAMAS: The Palestinian streets are growing restless. The Palestinian leaders, well-dressed, well-fed and enormously endowed find themselves unable to control their communities. They managed to gobble the vast funds provided by Donor Countries leaving little to trickle down to their people. A vacuum is created which is quickly filled by HAMAS and an internal struggle ensued.
6. LEBANON/SYRIA: To the Lebanese the Palestinian Refugees constitute an existential threat. In Syria they have become another Sunni bone in the throat of the Alawite Junta. It is Lebanon and Syria (not Egypt and Jordan) who need an Israeli/Palestinian resolution to push their refugees out and into Palestine. But both are helpless.
Therefore it is not realistic to expect all these conflicts to end quickly.
7. In conclusion: Ahmedinejad is the fulcrum that is holding all this structure together. What if Rafsanjani replaces him and Iran seeks accommodation with America and the Gulf ? The precarious structure will fall apart and the status-quo-anti will return. Israel will have to continue the occupation of a West Bank that might not want to be separated from Israel.
The leaderships of the two main protagonists of Annapolis are too weak to deliver an agreement. But of the two, it is the fragmentation of the Arab side that will eventually scupper any possible resolution.
So what is left for Israel to do when this year passes without conclusion? The answer is to be prepared to declare that it would implement withdrawal from the West Bank unilaterally on the lines of the Bush-Sharon’s letter of agreement and take immediate steps to implement it. The majority of Israelis, including Israeli Arabs, will support that move. And so will the electorate if a general election or referendum is called.
Aharon Nathan, December 2007www.AharonNathan.com