Israel’s Winograd Commission has been disbanded and so the conduct of the government during the Second Lebanon War is no longer on the agenda. The only current public debates are the one between Minister of Justice Daniel Friedman and President of Israel’s Supreme Court, Dorit Beinish, and the one surrounding former President Moshe Katzav’s decision to renege on his plea bargain.
In Kadima, Prime Minister Olmert’s authority is no longer questioned. Lieberman’s departure from the coalition is a distant memory. Eli Yishai’s threats to leave the coalition to protest rumored negotiations over Jerusalem don’t scare anybody, not even in Shas circles. It appears that the benefits to coalition members of sustaining the present government outweigh the desire for early elections. Everyone is apparently reveling in Netanyahu’s sinking into oblivion as leader of the opposition. The pundits increasingly speculate that time is working against him.
However, in Israeli politics, the unexpected always outdoes the wildest speculation by political analysts. It is very likely that this time too something unanticipated will happen – or perhaps it will be something that might be anticipated but just not part of the conventional wisdom.
In recent months, we have all witnessed Abu Mazen’s and Condoleeza Rice’s frequent visits to Olmert’s “kitchen”. In contrast to the weekly knife fight on Krav Sakhinim (the Israeli version of “Iron Chef”, literally “Battle of the Knives”), it appears that in the diplomatic kitchen, agreements are taking shape.
We can surmise that the discussions include issues such as checkpoints on the West Bank, the supply of fuel and electricity to Gaza, and the route of the Separation Fence. But these issues are the minor ones – the main issues are still the final borders, the fate of refugees, settlements, and despite the denials, Jerusalem. Resolution of these issues will each need its own timetable in the agreements being formulated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the help of the Americans.
While the Palestinian issue has been at the center of Israeli attention, over the Passover holiday the Syrian issue was again in the news. Prime Minister Olmert, through Turkey’s Prime Minister, indicated his willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement. Even if this is “all talk, “talk” can create reality.
There are diverse and conflicting assessments as to the intentions of the Syrian government. Juxtaposed to hints regarding Syria’s readiness to enter a diplomatic process come menacing remarks regarding preparations for a military campaign. Israelis must take both options very, very seriously. Without negotiations, we should anticipate unrest on the northern border.
Israeli citizens, with nerves tattered by recent conflicts, long for a sane and credible voice to sooth prevailing tensions. Obviously, the Middle East sits atop a stick of dynamite with a short fuse and requires the intervention of international players who can summon the hawkish factions to negotiations to resolve the conflicts in our region. The Syrians are a main party in this conflict. And of course there is the ever-present threat of Syria’s ally, Iran, an imminent and escalating danger, which only looms larger in the Israeli consciousness following Israel’s weak performance against the Iranian surrogate Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
All of this could be resolved in amazingly short order, according to one scenario. The main star would have to be U.S. President George Bush, who is scheduled to arrive for Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebrations in just a month.
The advantage of this timing is that against the backdrop of celebrations, euphoria and Ruhama Avraham’s fireworks at night, constitutive documents could be disseminated and accepted without a public outcry. Of course this would need to be accompanied by the Prime Minister’s commitment to hold elections, which would revolve mainly around the Agreement of Principles with the Palestinians and the negotiations with Syria. Prime Minister Olmert’s gamble would be that with American backing, and with the support of moderate Arab countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States, and perhaps members of the Quartet, most Israelis would endorse the plan.
In spite of everything, there would be elections in 2009 but with a difference. Social issues would again be placed on the back burner. The Second Lebanon War and the Winograd Commission would become history. The Right would be perceived as the “Rejectionist Front”, and remain a boisterous but isolated minority.
Nobody will even bring up the fact that the Left formulated this peace plan over 30 years ago. The plan’s pedigree makes no difference; the concepts of Left and Right have evolved and a new worldview requires new terminology and a new orientation in political space.
There is nothing new under the sun. Begin made peace with Egypt. Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with Arafat. Ariel Sharon dismantled each and every one of the Gaza Strip settlements. Tzachi Hanegbi (son of right-wing leader Geula Cohen) will stand to Olmert’s left at the ceremony marking the agreement to partition Jerusalem and return of the Golan Heights.
The Minister of History is all smiles.