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U.S. President George Bush Recruits Moderate Arab States In Last Chance Attempt To Rescue Israeli-Palestinian Peace Accord

Bush To Palestinians: 'You Must Choose Between Hamas & Palestine You Can't Have Both'

Bush To Israelis: 'Forget About Settlements & Develop Negev and Galilee'

US President George W. Bush

About to enter the home-stretch of his second and final term, U.S. President George Bush is making a final attempt to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement after the Hamas coup in Gaza. The IsraCast analysis is that Bush is exploiting the split between Hamas and Fatah to unify West Bank Palestinians and moderate Arab states on an accelerated two-state solution. Bush told the Palestinians they must renounce Hamas and terrorism and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israelis had to settle the Negev and Galilee and not the West Bank.

U.S. President George W. Bush has launched a last-ditch effort to cut an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. His two-state vision of five years ago lies in the ashes after the brutal takeover of Gaza by Hamas religious fanatics. In June 2002, Bush had offered Palestine to the Palestinians on condition they halted the terrorism and agreed to live in peace with Israel. But instead of taking up his offer, the Palestinians opted for Hamas which calls for Israel's destruction. The U.S. President, about to enter the home stretch of his second term, has repeated his offer from a different vantage point: the Hamas - Fatah rift and the threat of radical Islam to the moderate Sunni states. Bush has told the Palestinians: 'It's your call, either you go for Palestine with Mahmoud Abbas or follow Hamas terrorism, you can't have both!' How has the Bush administration now arrived at the far reaching international meeting this fall that is likely to dominate the regional agenda?

The president's two-state solution developed into the Road Map of the Quartet - the U.S, Russia, the E.U. and the U.N. after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice failed to make any headway on her own. Washington took a step from unilateralism to globalizing the Israeli- Palestinian conflict - the idea was that the international community would wade in with its political and economic support to nudge the Palestinians and Israel to a negotiated settlement. They coughed up nine billion dollars in foreign aid for Palestine but to no avail. This globalization approach to resolving the conflict went nowhere because although President Mahmoud Abbas may have been on board, most Palestinians were not. They voted Hamas. The Palestinians were locked into their zero sum game - they continued to reject the very existence of the Jewish state. There was no deviation from Camp David in 2000 when Yasser Arafat walked away from a similar two-state solution offered by Ehud Barak and and sanctioned by Bill Clinton. At Camp David, the Arab states looked on with indifference at best. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak even played the role of spoiler by warning Arafat that he had no mandate to negotiate on the status of Jerusalem.

Bush now appears to have brought the wheel full circle inviting Arab states to join in at the 'international meeting' not as kibitzers but also to make peace with Israel. Will this approach succeed after unilateralism, globalization failed ? Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, conventional wisdom has deemed that the Arab states have exploited the Palestinian refugees as pawns to deflect opposition at home. Except for Jordan, none of the Arab states offered to resettle any of the refugees. It now appears that the lack of sincere support by the Arab states for a settlement of the conflict has been a vital component missing from previous peace efforts. The Arab initiative may signal a new approach by some of Israel's neighbors. The moderate Sunni regimes in the region also face a future fraught with danger. Not only al Qaeda, but the radical Islamist threat championed by a nuclear armed Iran poses a dire threat not only to Israel.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would remove a very potent irritant in their own interests as well as for the U.S. and Israel. (In this context, the MEMRI website has carried some articles from the pro-government Egyptian press illustrating how the Hamas takeover in Gaza will encourage the radical Muslim Brotherhood inside Egypt.)

There is no wonder that the Bush proposal has been welcomed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office in Jerusalem. The Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronot, reports that Olmert was instrumental in planning the international conference when he conferred with Bush recently in the White House. The President has made clear there is no weakening of Israel as the Jewish state and homeland negating the Palestinian demand for a return of the refugees. His reference about taking into account 'current realities' would also support his pledge to Ariel Sharon about no return to the 1967 lines.

Hezbollah and Hamas

In the international sphere, by coupling Hamas with Hezbollah etc., Bush has branded Hamas controlled Gaza as one of the rogues being targeted by the international campaign against global terrorism. This is also a result of the Hamas coup in Gaza; until now the Israeli-Palestinian was viewed by and large as a local dispute over borders not part and parcel of the world- wide threat. The Palestinian leadership was also treated as a hybrid - good guy Abbas and bad guy Hamas. Bush made clear that distinction no longer exists. As for the Bush admonition about Israeli outposts and settlements, Olmert has just appointed Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon to oversee the removal of the illegal outposts. The Israeli leader has been playing his part, meeting with Abbas just hours before the Bush address. More Israeli good-will gestures are in the pipeline. The Palestinian tax money will keep flowing to the West Bank, while only humanitarian aid will be permitted to Gaza. Two hundred and fifty prisoners, none Hamas, are set to be released. No less important, Israeli security forces have taken 180 Fatah gunmen off the wanted list in the West Bank after they pledged to give up their weapons. Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu calls the release of terrorists a big mistake that Israel will pay for. In Netanyahu's words: 'Freeing terrorists will not strengthen Abbas it will only weaken Israel'. Palestinian leader Abbas is getting gestures galore but can he deliver? That depends whether the West Bankers are ready to back him up and accept the latest Bush offer by giving up terror and to also make the necessary concessions for the two state solution. But this far easier said than done. Fatah may be stronger than Hamas militarily on the West Bank but Hamas is still to be reckoned with politically having won the Palestinian election and taking control of the Palestinian parliament. But will West Bankers want to end up like their brothers in Gaza internationally isolated and ruled by Iranian style religious fanatics?

Even Hamas-Damascus leader Haled Mashal is having second thoughts about the Hamas expulsion of Fatah from Gaza. In a televised speech, Mashal apologized for the brutality of the Hamas attack; he said the killings of Fatah members were 'the acts of individuals and were not authorized by Hamas'. In any case, Olmert has reportedly told Abbas that Israeli concessions are conditional on no new link-up between Fatah and Hamas. As one source close to Olmert puts it: ' It's not divide and conquer but divide and negotiate '.

Finally the international meeting called by Bush is slated for the fall - that's when the final Winograd report is to be released into the Second Lebanon War. If momentum is building at that time it will help Olmert's attempt to survive any adverse findings. In this context, Olmert would appear to be as dependent on Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian president is on Olmert. The political future of both leaders are now tied up in the latest Bush proposal.

David Essing

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