Saturday, August 2

The Peace Process and PM Olmert’s Exit

After a rather quiet summer week with nothing much occurring, apart from the usual reports of car accidents and a mafia gang killing an innocent mother caught in the crossfire on Bat Yam Beach, south of Tel Aviv, PM Ehud Olmert made his dramatic announcement of resigning and not standing for re-election as leader of the Kadima Party. This did not come as any surprise to us. He is suspected of very severe financial irregularities which could result in a criminal indictment. He has been receiving money in envelopes from Maurice Talansky, a US Jewish fundraiser, and the financing of his plane fares by rather dubious means giving rise to grave suspicions. He has been under much pressure from his party colleagues as well as the opposition to resign so that he could spend time clearing his name. What should concern us amongst many things is the direction of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the indirect negotiations with Syria.

The suspicions of corruption against Olmert have weakened his premiership and it is a pity that he had not resigned earlier allowing the air to be cleared even if it means new elections. There are two serious contesters for the leadership of the Kadima Party, Shaul Mofaz and Tzippi Livni. The latter seems to be more popular. However, it is unlikely that either candidate, whoever is chosen to replace Olmert in the Kadima Party, will be able to form a coalition. It seems that new general elections are just around the corner.

On the one hand, Olmert has been weakened so much by the criminal suspicions against him that he is unable to function in order to make the bold decisions required to negotiate a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while on the other hand, the Israeli electorate will move further to the right in its voting patterns and Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, the Likud leader, will more than like be Israel’s next prime minister. This will be disastrous for the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the chances of initiating direct negotiations with Syria. This could result in further polarization and a possible end to the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza. Bibi will try to create a broad base coalition including Kadima, Labour and Shas as well as the plethora of right wing parties. Labour under Barak will be further weakened and Israel will move towards a total stalemate in peace negotiations. This could result in escalation of violence and the rather shaky cease-fire with Hamas, which exists in the south of the country, could be shattered. The Likud and its right wing allies are hawkish and their attitudes are not conducive to peace. Illegal settlements in the West Bank will be expanded at a greater pace and this would eat into the Palestinian territories even further. An independent Palestinian state will never be achieved because of illegal Israeli settlements which would make the Palestinian state non-viable. It is the Likud grand plan to bluff the Palestinians into a false belief of achieving a Palestinian state. How this can be achieved with parallel illegal settlement expansion in the territories is anybody’s guess.

Now Syria is moving towards a form of compromise with the US and Israel even though this movement is very tentative at this stage. It is also unpredictable. The slightest move by Israel towards more uncompromising positions Likud-style could push Syria back into the Iranian camp from which it has not divested itself entirely if at all. Whatever Syria does, Lebanon will follow suit. Lebanon is still under Syrian influence and if Syria makes peace with Israel so will Lebanon. Lebanon has the added problem of Hezbollah which would strengthen its anti-Israel stance in line with Iran’s Ahmadinajad.

Much of the financial irregularities occurred when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem. Nevertheless the moment these suspicions hang over his head like the sword of Damocles, it weakens his power in the eyes of the Israeli public and his ability to govern. His decision to resign was the correct one under these circumstances.

The biggest dangers facing Israel are the collapse of the peace talks with Syria even though they are indirect under Turkish mediation and the negotiations with the Palestinians despite the fact that the negotiations with the latter are only partial as Hamas has been excluded because of their inability to come to terms with Israel’s existence and cease their terror activities which they have put on hold at the moment under the cease-fire agreement.

Meanwhile, under Olmert there had been tentative movements towards some form of peace negotiations with the Palestinians even though it may not be representative of all the Palestinians because Gaza under Hamas is out of the negotiation picture entirely.

We have no reason to believe that new elections will bring in a new government more amenable to peace with the Palestinians. Rather the contrary is possible. The Likud’s agenda is peace with the Golan Heights and large tracts of Palestinian land under Israeli occupation.

This would be disastrous for Israel and it would give the illegal settlers legitimacy to expand and destroy the two-state solution. The abuse of Palestinians by the illegal loutish settlers will continue and the incidents like those that occurred in the southern Hebron district will continue. Under the Likud, the settlers will gain an ally more sympathetic to settlement expansion.

An Israeli occupation army soldier earlier this month shot from a close range and injured a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainee, an Israeli human rights group revealed Sunday.

According to B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the incident took place on 7 July, in Nil’in, a village in the central West Bank.

Palestinians and foreign peace activists hold regular and mostly non-violent protests against the confiscation by Israel of private Palestinian land for the construction of the “Separation Wall,” the gigantic barrier Israel is building in the area.

Vast swaths of Palestinian farms, orchards and groves have been seized by Israel under the pretext of building the wall, most of which is built deep in the West Bank far away from the so-called Green Line, the former armistice line between Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian territory.

What will happen after Olmert is anybody’s guess. There is no room for much optimism as the swing of the electorate will be towards the right and this means further human rights abuses against the Palestinian population.