The mood is dark in the IDF's General Staff ahead of next week's "peace" conference in Annapolis. As one senior officer directly involved in the negotiations with the Palestinians and the Americans said, "As bad as it might look from the outside, the truth is 10 times worse. This is a nightmare. The Americans have never been so hostile."
On Thursday a draft of the joint statement that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are discussing ahead of the conference was leaked to the media. A reading of the document bears out the IDF's concerns.
The draft document shows that the Palestinians and the Israelis differ not only on every issue, but differ on the purpose of the document. It also shows that the US firmly backs the Palestinians against Israel.
As the draft document makes clear, Israel is trying to avoid committing itself to anything at Annapolis. For their part, the Palestinians are trying to force Israel's hand by tying it to diplomatic formulas that presuppose an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines and an Israeli acceptance of the so-called "right of return" or free immigration of foreign Arabs to Israel.
The Palestinians are also trying to take away Israel's right to determine for itself whether to trust the Palestinians and continue making diplomatic and security concessions or not by making it the responsibility of outside parties to decide the pace of the concessions and whether or not the Palestinians should be trusted.
As the leaked draft document shows, the Americans have sided with the Palestinians against Israel. Specifically, the Americans have taken for themselves the sole right to judge whether or not the Palestinians and the Israelis are abiding by their commitments and whether and at what pace the negotiations will proceed.
But the Americans have shown themselves to be unworthy of Israel's trust. By refusing to acknowledge Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party's direct involvement in terrorism and indeed the direct involvement of his official Fatah "security forces" in terrorism, the Americans have shown that their benchmarks for Palestinian compliance with their commitments to Israel are not necessarily based on the reality on the ground. Then too, the US demands for wide-ranging Israeli security concessions to the Palestinians even before the "peace" conference at Annapolis have shown that Israel's security is of little concern to the State Department.
IDF sources blame the shooting murder of Ido Zoldan on Monday night by Fatah terrorists on Israel's decision to bow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's demand to take down 24 security roadblocks in Judea and Samaria. If it hadn't been for US pressure, they say, it is quite possible that the 29-year-old father of two small children would be alive today.
But this is of no concern for Washington. As Rice has made clear repeatedly, the US wants to see "signs of progress." Since the Palestinians are taking no action against terror and doing nothing to lessen their society's jihadist fervor, the only way to achieve "signs of progress" is by forcing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. And so that is exactly what Rice and her associates are doing.
Rice is able to force Israel to accept her demands because she faces the weakest Israeli leaders the country has ever produced. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are all incapable of standing up to the Americans or even arguing with them. Olmert's and Livni's weakness has been apparent since their mishandling of the war with Hizbullah last summer and their negotiations over the cease-fire agreement with Rice. For his part, throughout his brief and disastrous tenure as prime minister, Barak behaved as though he were then president Bill Clinton's employee.
BUT IF Olmert's, Livni's and Barak's willingness to compromise their nation's security is a function of their weakness, what explains Rice's and Bush's behavior? Why are they weakening Israel and pushing for the establishment of yet another Middle Eastern terror state? What US interest do they think they are advancing by acting as they are?
Over the past several weeks, a number of theories have been raised to explain their behavior. The most frequent explanation is that Rice and Bush are championing Palestinian statehood at Israel's expense in a bid to mobilize a coalition of Sunni Arab states to cooperate with the US against Iran.
According to this theory, if Annapolis is seen as a success, then the Arab states will be convinced that the US is worth supporting on Iran. This theory has several flaws. First, as the US's treatment of Israel makes clear, success in Annapolis involves weakening Israel whose destruction Iran seeks and empowering the Palestinians whom Iran supports. This means that far from weakening Iran, success at Annapolis advances Iran's interests.
But beyond that, whether wittingly or unwittingly, by convening the conference next week, the Bush administration has directly empowered Iran. Today the determination of whether the administration emerges unscathed or humiliated from Annapolis is entirely in Iran's hands. Iran will decide whether the conference opens and closes peacefully or whether it is convened as Lebanon is submerged in civil war by Iran's proxies Syria and Hizbullah.
According to the Lebanese constitution, Saturday is the last day on which a new Lebanese president can be elected. Lebanon's president must be elected by two-thirds of the members of Lebanon's parliament. Through their campaign of assassination, Syria and Hizbullah have taken away the two-thirds majority that anti-Syrian forces won in the 2005 elections. As a result, Hizbullah has veto power over the election. And so far, Iran and Syria have refused to allow Hizbullah to back any candidate. This is the case despite the anti-Syrian majority's willingness to support a pro-Syrian presidential candidate.
Due to the Iranian-Syrian induced impasse, today there are two possible scenarios for what may happen in the next few days in Lebanon. Either Iran and Syria will allow elections to take place and an agent of their regimes and Hizbullah will take over the presidency, or elections will not take place and two governments – one anti-Syrian under Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and one pro-Syrian – will be formed. The pro-Syrian government will be supported by Hizbullah and the Lebanese army. The anti-Syrian government will be supported by Christian, Sunni and Druse militias. A civil war will ensue. Syria, Hizbullah and Iran will win.
In a bid to induce the first scenario, Bush has been lobbying every leader he can think of to appeal to Teheran and Damascus to relent and allow elections to go through. To this end, he even asked their primary arms supplier Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene. Olmert's decision to allow Fatah security forces to receive 25 advanced Russian armored personnel carriers in spite of IDF objections was no doubt a consequence of Bush's appeal to Putin for help.
If the Americans believe the key to countering Iran is to build an anti-Iranian Arab coalition, the crisis in Lebanon shows just how futile their efforts are. Just as the Sunni Arab states oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, so they oppose Iranian control over Lebanon. Yet in spite of this, they have done nothing to prevent Iran and its proxies from taking control of the country. To the contrary, the Saudis have encouraged the Siniora government to support pro-Syrian candidates for the presidency.
So if the administration has decided to embrace the Palestinians as a means of weakening Iran, its decision is wrong on three counts. First, given Iran's support for the Palestinian
s, empowering them against Israel simply advances Iran's interest. Second, the Annapolis conference has become a hostage of Iranian goodwill which is non-existent. And finally, even if it were formed, an anti-Iranian Arab coalition would be powerless to check Iran's power.
EVEN THOUGH the summit at Annapolis weakens the US's position vis-à-vis Iran, it might still make sense for Bush and Rice to support Palestinian statehood if doing so enhanced public support for the administration. But the opposite is occurring. Bush's and Rice's seeming obsession with Palestinian statehood is being criticized from all sides of the aisle.
Critics on the left like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and former Clinton negotiator and Palestinian apologist Robert Malley have expressed mystification at the administration's insistent advance of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians when there is no chance that those negotiations will bring peace. So too, over the past few weeks, four Republican presidential candidates – Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson – have criticized Bush's and Rice's Palestinian policies generally and the convening of the conference at Annapolis in particular.
There is also the theory that the pair's primary concern in pushing for Palestinian statehood is their legacies. Rice's stated intention of seeing a Palestinian state established before Bush leaves office lends weight to this view. But of course, given that the maximum that Israel is willing to concede to the Palestinians is less than the minimum that the Palestinians are willing to accept, and given that the Olmert government will be brought down if Olmert agrees to any major concessions, it is clear that there is no chance that Rice will succeed.
Finally there is the thought that Rice and Bush understand that there is no chance of achieving peace, but that they think that their legacies will be strengthened just for having tried. After all, Bill Clinton is remembered well for his attempts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians in spite of the fact that his attempts brought war rather than peace. But Clinton's example is no longer applicable because the conditions under which Clinton pursued peace were far different than those that exist today.
Clinton's peace policies caused a war that began only at the end of his presidency. Until then, they seemed like relatively safe and cost-free moves. On the other hand, Bush's presidency has occurred in its entirety against the backdrop of the Palestinian jihad. Every attempt he has made at peacemaking, from the Tenet Plan through the road map and Sharm e-Sheikh and onto Annapolis, has been blown apart through violence before it could get off the ground.
So then there is no good excuse for the Bush administration's decision to embrace the Palestinians at Israel's expense. It all comes down to Bush and Rice not thinking through the consequences of their moves.
It is a singular tragedy that Israel's elected leaders are too weak to make them understand that by harming Israel, they are harming the United States and making fools of themselves.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.