Monday, June 5, 2006

Israel’s latest peace plan was priced at $10 billion in low interest loans from the U.S. — and wouldn’t bring peace with the Palestinians any closer.

Originally dubbed “convergence,” the plan put forward by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington two weeks ago would set final borders unilaterally and kill the “viable and contiguous” Palestinian state pledged by President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003. What would be left of the West Bank would not be contiguous, stripped as it would be of direct access to Arab East Jerusalem and of a land corridor to Gaza and, therefore, not viable.

But Mr. Olmert’s plan could be loaves and fishes for Palestinian terrorists. After 60,000 Israelis now living in some 60 smaller settlements are transferred to larger ones behind the 456-mile (up from 420 miles), $2.2 billion barrier, funded by U.S. soft loans, Hamas would be free to lob its Iran-supplied missiles into Israel. Jordan would come under tremendous pressure from Palestinians in the West Bank to reopen its border. Hamas would also have a hunting license to destabilize the Hashemite kingdom whose population is already 65 percent Palestinian. All in all, a bad deal for Israel and a good deal for Hamas.

Anxious to stay in step with the EU3 (France, Britain, Germany) partners mandated by the U.S. to negotiate with Iran, President Bush applied the brakes on the Olmert plan. Behind all the public displays of adulation and 16 standing ovations during a 30-minute speech to a joint session of Congress (coached by Republican oracle Frank Luntz), the five hours of face time with Mr. Bush were not trouble-free. There were several tough questions for Mr. Olmert.

Where would Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) redeploy after smaller settlements closer to Jordan are abandoned? Would IDF have freedom of movement in areas to be evacuated? Does Israel plan to make the Jordan River valley a buffer zone? With Israeli military positions on the river? What happens to the “contiguous” Palestinian state after settlement enlargement truncates what is patchwork to begin with?

Mr. Olmert told the president “convergence” would be spread over two years. Mr. Bush preferred “realignment” over three to four years. Permanent borders, said the president, can only be set in negotiations. Private caveats aside, Mr. Bush said Mr. Olmert’s plan could constitute an important step to a two-state solution (if the Road Map can locate the road that’s no longer on the map). On the other hand, Mr. Bush added, Jewish settlements could only be annexed into Israel “in the framework of a permanent status agreement.”

Conveniently overlooked in this calculus is that 171,000 Israelis now live between the barrier and the original Green Line (pre-1967 war borders). The multilayered security system that snakes in and out of the West Bank has already made 222 square miles of Palestinian land an integral part of Israel. Arab East Jerusalem’s 183,000 Israeli settlers are gaining ground on 216,000 Palestinians (who carry Israeli ID cards). Jerusalem’s city limits have been extended to include several Arab villages, and are now directly linked to Maale Adumim, an Israeli settlement of 50,000, that juts 9 miles into the West Bank, and blocks roads used by Palestinians.

As the Bush administration applied the brakes on Israel’s new plan, Hamas appeared to move toward a decoy compromise by shelving, albeit temporarily, its demand for Israel’s destruction. By telling President Mahmoud Abbas’ there was no need for a 10-day ultimatum to sign up for a Palestinian state made up of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, it did not reject the idea. The new Hamas government in Gaza had much to gain. Desperately needed aid funds would flow again. Two-thirds of Gaza’s population lives below the local poverty line; Gaza and West Bank joblessness has doubled to 40 percent; 140,000 civil servants, including 58,000 armed “security” personnel, haven’t been paid in three months.

Hamas also knows there’s no way Israel would accept this implied return to its pre-1967 war borders. But jihadists would see what’s left of the West Bank, with no land link to East Jerusalem, which most Palestinians see as their capital, becoming a base for terrorist activity against Israel and Jordan.

Nor will there be a land link between Gaza, with its 1.2 million Palestinians, and the West Bank with 2.4 million, under future Palestinian control. The Hashemite kingdom across the river, whose population is 65 percent Palestinian, would come under great pressure to allow free movement of Palestinians between the West Bank and Jordan.

Jordan is already reeling under the pressure of 1 million Iraqis who moved across the border in the three years since the U.S. invasion. Many are wealthy businessmen who made Saddam-authorized fortunes with the now-defunct oil-for-food rackets when the U.N. was in charge. Real estate prices are out reach even for comfortably off Jordanians. Palestinian extremist sympathizers of Hamas have been stoking the fires of Jordanian resentment.

Israel’s unspoken ulterior motive, which Jordan’s King Abdullah and ranking officials know all too well, is to make Jordan the Palestinian state, leaving what’s left of the West Bank as a sort of no-man’s-land buffer between the two countries. While Mr. Sharon was still prime minister, he suggested to King Abdullah he resume responsibility for the West Bank, which was Jordan’s mandate prior to the 1967 war.

King Abdullah understood, as his late father King Hussein did, this would be the first step in a geostrategic gambit to turn Jordan into a full-fledged Palestinian state.

Two Sundays ago, Abdullah flew in for a quiet Sunday supper with Mr. Bush to brief him on the links he now sees between a rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions, Islamist subversion in Jordan and the West Bank, and Israel’s now well advanced plan to establish its permanent borders sans negotiations with the Palestinians. Each has an in-built accelerant for wider regional conflict.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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