Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Condy's surprises

The current brief but unheralded visit by US Secty. of State Condoleeza Rice to the Middle East had two unpleasant surprises for Israel. Apparently, we have now come to that well-known phase of a lame-duck president when the lack of progress on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, in this case the so-called "two-state solution," results in pressure being put on Israel. This is because the Palestinains anyway never compromise, so putting pressure on them is pointless, while Israel is so dependent on US support that it is the usual target of American pressure. As the Arabs constantly claim that the US is too pro-Israel (and why not) they lobby continuously for the US to put pressure on Israel to "force" concessions.
This time the first "surprise" was that Condy openly criticized Israel for its plans to build housing units in several locations in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This was one-sided criticism and was certainly designed to placate and support PA Pres. Abbas and PM Salam Fayyed in their roles as the West's favorite Palestinian leaders. Of course, the US is against Hamas as a terrorist group, but Condy's attention was not focussed on their daily bombardment of Israel with rockets and mortars.
Although it has been US policy to oppose construction of "settlements" on the West Bank for some time, Pres. Bush has also stated in an important letter to the Israeli PM that the US agrees that the whole West Bank need not be "returned" to the Palestinians, but that "territorial adjustments" are expected due to the changed situation there, i.e. the development over time of large Israeli settlements and towns. So this is an ambiguity in American policy, that can be interpreted either way, depending on whether or not the Administration wishes to seem to be more or less pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. While Pres. Bush basks in the praise of being the most pro-Israel President, nevertheless he wants to go down in history, like all other Presidents, as the one who "solved" the Mid-East situation, so now he is pressuring Israel.
The Palestinian/Arab position is that all building by Israel on the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is illegal. But, this blanket prohibition is not accepted by Israel, which recognizes three aspects, 1. a prohibition on establishing new settlements, 2. the right to expand existing settlements, and 3. the right to build in those areas that Israel intends to retain in any settlement with the Palestinians, particularly in Jeruslaem. While the US sometimes calls Israel's continued expansion of settlements "unhelpful" this time Condy went further and actively criticized Israel while in Jerusalem for holding up progress towards the "two state solution."
After doing this, Condy took a surprise trip to Lebanon, where she met with the new President Suleiman, and congratulated him on his appointment. This was a result of Qatari intervention that resulted in an agreement between the anti-Syrian factions and the pro-Syrian Hizbollah, that avoided another civil war, but gave Hizbollah veto control over Lebanese Govt. policy. Some might interpret this as a setback for the pro-Western forces, but they paid this price for avoiding further fighting. In order to show support for Lebanon and Suleiman, Rice stated that it was about time that the Mount Dov (Saba Farms) region was settled.
This is a small region that was part of Syria, that was captured in 1967 and is still occupied by Israel, and that now Lebanon claims. Hizbollah has been using this Israeli occupation of a tiny slice of land (actually two farms) as a basis for their "resistance" to Israel. Rice's support for Lebanon can be viewed as a reversal in US policy from supporting Israel's (and the UN's) position to that of Lebanon, in other words Israel should give up the Sabah farms to Lebanon. This is once again attempting to placate Hizbollah.
While neither of these "surprises" are very significant nor shocking, they both indicate that "lame-duck" pressuring of Israel is in season.


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