Political predictions are never written in stone, and certainly I make no claims that what I’m about to write here is anything other than a speculation. But I think it’s a reasonably informed speculation and worth sharing…
I wrote yesterday about Netanyahu and Barak having met, and about thoughts that they might have been talking about more than defense issues.
Well, just suppose that…
Netanyahu has convinced Barak that he (Barak) will have a more solid political future if he throws the lot of Labor in with Likud rather than with Kadima. Suppose Barak is sold on the idea that the whole Kadima party is politically polluted and that something of their reputation would ultimate rub off on Labor (not that Barak himself is exactly Mr. Clean, you understand).
This notion that Likud now seeks to represent itself as the party of integrity (no laughing out there, please) is bolstered by Uzi Dayan having joined its ranks. Dayan’s Tafnit party platform had a strong plank for clean government — his endorsement of Likud is like the Seal of Good Housekeeping (for those Americans old enough to remember that).
Suppose Netanyahu has made promises to Barak about the role Labor can play in the coalition, and that Netanyahu and Barak together have decided to finish the Kadima party.
It could happen: they could do it. Without Labor, it is very unlikely that anyone at Kadima’s helm would be able to put together a stable coalition.
All of this is by way of saying that it ain’t over yet, and we cannot be certain how it will play out — and certainly cannot be sure that the next government will be Kadima-led.
Haim Ramon, an Olmert mouthpiece and a deputy PM, told Army Radio this morning that Kadima’s chances of forming a new coalition are very slim. While Shaul Mofaz, also speaking to Army Radio, said he thinks he has a good chance of winning the Kadima primary, and that he intends to put together a broad-based coalition for a unity government. Right now in polls on the Kadima primary Mofaz is running just a couple of points behind Livni, who previously had a major lead.
And Binyamin Netanyahu is calling for new elections, saying, “This government has reached an end and it doesn’t matter who heads Kadima. They are all partners in this government’s total failure.”
It is apparently as I had speculated yesterday. (Making this speculation was a no-brainer, really.)
Police sources are saying that Olmert decided to step down now because “he recognized that the investigation evidence held by police is serious and solid….The investigation Friday is expected to be difficult and uncomfortable for Olmert. He will be confronted with evidence and documents that have accumulated against him, and it is a fair assumption that he already understands that this involves substantive evidence.” (Olmert is to be questioned again, this time with regard to alleged double billing for travel.)
There are actually commentators who are saying that Olmert has stepped down with dignity, doing what’s right for the country. But, hey, I say he’s doing what’s right for Olmert, as he always does. Far better this than the possibility of being forced out after he’s indicted.
What’s clear is that he is without humility of any sort or a sense of responsibility for what has transpired. He is, he tells us, only a hard working and innocent man who has been set upon by enemies.
Most disconcerting is Olmert’s pledge to keep working on peace negotiations. This raises the issue of exactly what would be tolerated in this country in terms of any commitments he might make to the PA when he is on his way out. We cannot let our guard down here.
Earlier this week, Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that it was highly unlikely that it would be possible to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians by the end of 2008. While there were gaps on issues such as borders and refugees, he said the main sticking point was Jerusalem.
Then, a day later, Olmert announced expectation that it should be possible to reach an agreement on everything else but Jerusalem by the end of 2008, with a mechanism set in place for how to reach a Jerusalem agreement in the following year.
Yesterday the Palestinians weighed in on this. If there is no comprehensive agreement by the end of 2008, we are being told, the PA may stop negotiations. “May.” I have never known a group to make so many threats, all of which turn out to be nothing but hot air.
What Abbas’s chief of staff, Rafik Husseni, said was, “We will negotiate until the end of the year, and then the president will review our options.”
But here’s the key: “Without a deal on Jerusalem, there will not be a peace deal at all.”
Ahmed Qurei, head of the negotiating team, vociferously agreed:
“There will be no peace agreement with Israel unless there’s an agreement on Jerusalem. And there will be no state without Jerusalem. Olmert and the rest of the world must understand that Jerusalem is the core of the problem.”
Note: “Jerusalem” means a demand for all of eastern Jerusalem, with us returning to the Green Line. This means, aside from everything else, total relinquishment of the Kotel and Har Habayit (the Temple Mount). This is not going to happen.
So the bottom line is that I don’t believe Olmert is capable of signing off on a final deal with the PA before he leaves office. But he can do us damage by going on the record as being committed to things that will come to haunt us later.
Abbas made yet another threat yesterday that is a sure sign of just how precarious the position of the PA is right now. If Israel releases Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament as part of the deal to secure the release of Shalit, Abbas would dismantle the PA. This information, according to Haaretz, came as a “personal message” from Abbas delivered to our Central Command by head of the PA’s civic affairs department.
Many Hamas parliamentarians were arrested by Israel after Shalit was captured and about 40 remain in our prisons. Abbas is afraid that their release would end up strengthening Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria significantly just at a time when Fatah and Hamas are embroiled in conflict.
The position that Abbas is taking on this might have the effect of weakening him on the Palestinian street, as Abbas is supposed to be working for the release of all Palestinian brothers.
There is no progress in negotiations to secure Shalit in any event, because Israel is refusing to release all of the prisoners demanded by Hamas — not because they will strengthen Hamas civic infrastructure, but because they are terrorists. Neither will we permit the opening of the crossing at Rafah as a precondition.
But the question remains as to whether Israel might give credence to Abbas’s concerns on this.
Yesterday, Khaled Abu Toameh reports, PA security was put on high alert because Hamas is threatening PA officials in Judea and Samaria — especially in Ramallah, and the threats are being taken seriously.
Leaflets distributed by Hamas’s military wing, Izzadin Kassam, targeted top PA leaders for “collaborating with Israel.”
Specifically mentioned were Abbas, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, top Fatah officials Azzam al-Ahmed and Ahmed Abdel Rahman, and Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior adviser to Abbas.
“Collaborating with Israel”: Great climate for negotiating serious “peace talks,” no?
Eli Lake, writing in the NY Sun, discusses the fact that there is now likely to be a slow down in PA – Israel negotiations, which will be problematic for Rice, who is pushing for an interim document.
Lake cites David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
“Basically, Secretary Rice would like a summation document that points to the disagreements and the points of convergence between the two parties. The problem is that no political figures like to expose to the public the concessions they make in the absence of a diplomatic breakthrough….There is not much hope for such an agreed-upon document.”