Palestinian-Israeli Peacemaking affected by US Presidency
The accent the incoming Bush presidency is placing on foreign policy is beginning to color Palestinian-Israel peacemaking, the latest round of which is due to kick off in Washington Tuesday Dec. 19 in separate talks, with outgoing peace negotiator Dennis Ross shuttling between the parties. This time, according to a senior US source, the initiative for the talks came from Yasser Arafat – not Barak. First, the Palestinian leader took care to assure his colleagues that whatever happened it would not lead to a deal with Israel, then he urgently and secretly turned the heat up for a resumption of the diplomatic process. Clinton aides explain Arafat’s eagerness by his sense of a threat hanging over his leadership. All three live wires in the process, outgoing president Clinton, caretaker Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, and Yasser Arafat, all have in interest in showing progress. Hence the purportedly concrete proposals disseminated n the media on the issues of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and frontiers. In actual fact, according to debkafile‘s senior source in Washington, they are no more than “floating ideas”.That source seriously doubts the feasibility of deals on those three issues. Neither is there any foundation to the reports that Clinton will be staying on the Israel-Palestinian talks after he departs the White House.President-elect Bush, who has already announced his administration will be fully engaged in the Middle East, has assented to his predecessor dealing with the negotiations in the remaining weeks of his presidency, with the proviso that all agreements are submitted to Bush for prior approval. He also wants both Palestinian and Israeli governments apprised that the new administration will forge fresh policy approaches. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian delegations in Washington, while both, for their own reasons, anxious to wind up something on paper, will therefore tread very carefully until the intentions of the incoming Bush president are more exactly understood.
Already hints of the long shadow cast by the 1991 Gulf War on future attitudes to both Israel and the Palestinians have been thrown out (See separate item on this page on Bush and Israel).
Arafat may have more cause for anxiety than Barak. The new president’s apparent determination to settle military scores with Saddam Hussein upsets the Palestinian leader’s applecart. His confrontation strategy with Israel rested heavily on a Palestinian-Iraq axis – as reported repeatedly in debkafile in recent weeks. His game plan was for Palestinian combat-cum-terrorist offensive to build up during the winter months leaving Israel exhausted in the face of a spring offensive coming from a mixed Iraqi-Syrian force in Lebanon. A US-led Arab coalition-backed first strike against Baghdad would deprive Arafat of the ace card of his Aksa Intifada. Without Iraq – or even Syria, whose ruler will also tread warily now – the Palestinians fight alone. Already heralded therefore is a major policy departure from the Clinton Middle East orientation. Furthermore, while Arafat may sound confident about the good relations he expects in the new White House, he knows the Bush clan’s memory is as long as his own; they will not have forgotten his support for Saddam in the 1991 Gulf War and will be far less approachable than the outgoing president. One Washington source talking to debkafile, stressed that the Palestinian leader will have to learn he can no longer talk to us from a position of strength. Since the Palestinian uprising began, Arafat administered more than one slap in the faces of the US President, Secretary of State and CIA.” Time may therefore be running out for Arafat.
Egyptian president Husni Mubarak, aware of the tonal changes in the US capital, tested a new theme of his own: Sunday Dec. 17, he declared Jerusalem is not a purely Palestinian issue, but concerns all the Islamic and Christian nations.