George W. Bush is in Jerusalem and so are the journalists who cover such events. Here are some slides of what every reporter should know before he/she sits down to write.
Please note: For discussion purposes only; not complete without various admixtures of dread and wishful thinking that determine analysis. (As in this conversation with the New York Times's Steve Erlanger and Open Source's Christopher Lydon.)
One (A): America—Policy
- Bush is commander-in-chief of forces occupying Iraq
- Finally dawned on him that this makes him ex officio member of Arab League
- Arab League states are mainly Sunni
- Kings/presidents-for-life afraid of Islamist fanaticism
- Challenge of Iran roiling Arab capitals
- Egypt could be next, if Al-Jazeera keeps showing Israeli military actions
- Europe wants a deal; keen to influence events with diplomacy, money, and federalist example
- Fear Muslim backlash at home
- Wary of “one-state” sentiment among intellectuals
- Dismayed by longstanding American coddling of Israeli annexationists
- Wary of oil disruptions, violence on margins
- Bush, Rice, etc., will not attack Iran’s nukes, centrifuges, etc., after CIA assessment
- But willingness to entertain the idea a proof of its friendship
- hatred of “Islamofascists,” toughness, difference from Democrats, etc.
One (B): America—Politics
- Bush wants “legacy”
- Peace, a counterweight to being thought the worst president in American history (though who really remembers Buchanan?)
- Arab leaders want Israeli-Palestinian conflict over
- Prepared to recognize Israel, like Henry Ford recognized the UAW
- Condoleezza Rice will want to run for something after her husb…, er, boss is finally gone
Conclusion: Bush, Rice—so goes the edgier lead—will be tougher in private than in public.
- A Palestinian State
Conclusion: Off the record, PA people will tell you they are offering “Clinton bridging parameters,” Taba, etc.; want international forces to replace IDF; will try for deal that effaces towns of Ariel and Qiryat Arba, which require fingers of land making state contiguity impossible.
Two (B): The Palestinians—Politics
- In polls, Hamas just 7% behind Fatah, closing in
- “West Bank” same as Gaza
- Fatah group (“Ramallah mafia”) still unpopular for manifest corruption
- e.g., chief negotiator Abu Alaa’s oil and gasoline distribution monopoly
- Has become the party of “let’s give the process one more chance”
- Borrowed time
- Race between improved conditions and Hamas demagogy
- Fatah needs manifest Israeli cooperation to, as they say, to keep its “narrative” plausible
- Hamas does not
- Hamas: knows attacks on Fatah, terror attacks, missile attacks not popular (in that order), but IDF retaliations, targeted assassinations, etc., even more unpopular
- So attacks will continue: vendetta climate works to Hamas's benefit
- Rivalry between Fatah and Hamas will not be decided in polls
- “The street”: reacts to the presence, activity of militias
- Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, strong for Fatah; Nablus, Jenin, Hebron, edge to Hamas
- PA trying to advance “law and order”
- Fatah leadership loves/hates freeing Marwan Barghouti
- Need his secular popularity, fear his populism
- Over long run, split between Fatah and Hamas exaggerated
- Rivalries personal, and bloody, but the status quo (poverty, “martyrs,” youth culture, 540 checkpoints, etc.) drives all together
- Nobody likes separation between West Bank and Gaza
Conclusion: No matter what the PA leadership in Ramallah tells you, Fatah, etc., need a deal now. May hold power this year, but cannot survive for long without repairing relations with Hamas even (especially?) if Barghouti is freed.
- Olmert, Livni, Barak, “the center”: stop occupation from burdening Israel’s drive to become the Silicon Valley of Europe and South Asia
- Olmert (or Livni, Barak, etc.) will not offer Clinton parameters, Taba, etc., because afraid of immediate rightist reaction to threat to Ariel, Qiryat Arba, etc.
- Offer principles consistent with Taba
- Agree to an eventual contingent of international forces to cool down violence
- Does not mean general war, but escalation
- Freeing Barghouti, reducing checkpoints, etc. does not mean peace
- Both are interpreted as strengthening the Palestine Authority
Conclusion: Olmert will continue negotiating with PA, probably also in secret, just as he says. He'll not push hard for Bush, Rice, etc., to attack Iran’s nukes, centrifuges, etc., but will continue to make US willingness to entertain the idea the test of love of Israel (respect for Israeli intelligence, neocons, etc.).
Three (B): Israel- Politics
- If Winograd Commission Report (investigating the 2006 Lebanon war) is damning, Olmert will be gone by mid- February
- Haaretz types really don’t like this guy
- Barak will feel he must bolt, though not an MK, and therefore unable to become PM right away
- Either case, Olmert’s government should survive until 2009
- Livni replaces Olmert
- Barak wants more time to prove he's new Sharon
- Shas and the Pensioners’ Party don't want election
- Lieberman may leave if core negotiations advance publicly
- Key unknown: How many Kadima people (e.g., former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz) would want to rush back to the Likud before a Bibi victory?
Conclusion: To stop Bibi, the Olmert government will want to pull a rabbit of the hat—a negotiated peace plan that can be presented to the electorate as a package. But this is not to say they have the courage or prestige to do what they want (see below).
Four (A): Implications for the Peace Process
- Abbas needs “two-state solution”
- Cannot split the country further (i.e., face down Islamist, populist) opposition for the sake of “giving peace a chance”
- May arrest Hamas people, but cannot arrest growth of Hamas attitudes
- Young people may wave Fatah flags but all incipiently insurgents
- Olmert wants “two-state solution”
- Cannot split the country either (i.e., face down rightist opposition in the streets) for the sake of “giving peace a chance”
- Moving 75-100,000 settlers means bloody fights between IDF and rightists
- Backlash in and around Jerusalem, overwhelmingly rightist and Orthodox
- While US pushes privately, both sides drawn into escalations by violent hardliners on each side
- Makes progress seem Utopian and leaders vaguely treacherous
- Olmert coalition unravels
Conclusion: Abbas and Olmert (or Livni, etc.) will argue for self-determination in negotiations, but neither can take dramatic initiative. Again, their domestic weakness is not just personal, but built into the charge that they are “splitting the country” for the sake of murderous enemies on the other side.
Four (B): Inference For Action
- If Bush wants a deal, he'll have to endorse the deal, i.e., the Clinton parameters, Taba, etc.
- Call it the Quartet Plan
- Rally all parties in a rounds of public diplomacy
- Jordan's King Abdullah: “You have the road map, you have Taba, you have the Geneva Accord. So, we don’t have to go back to the drawing board”
- Gives Abbas and Olmert an “American policy”
- Scare Israeli right: reckless to defy America
- defiance of America will be strong, but will last a month
- More Dr. Kissinger, less Dr. Phil
- Gives Abbas and Olmert something to uphold without appearing to trust one another
- America: offer Israel a defense treaty, NATO membership
- European Union:
- offer Israel a path to membership, like Turkey
- offer Palestine 50 billion euros in development aid
Conclusion: All reporters should go see the new Israeli film, The Band’s Visit, which is the best proof we have that, for ordinary people, peace is already here.