Friday, February 07, 2003
Ha'aretz, meanwhile, has a piece by Ze'ev Schiff about Sharon's upcoming visit with Mubarak. As you would expect, they are worried that Sharon will not be sufficiently forthcoming, not pleased that Mubarak has apparently changed his tune about Sharon.
I've blogged before about Egypt's foreign policy and its basic objectives. They are: (1) keep close to the Americans; (2) contain Israel and try to separate Israel from the Americans; (3) avoid war with Israel; (4) enhance Egyptian stature and leadership within the Arab world. So Egypt will make trouble for Israel whenever it can do so without making too much trouble for itself, and will try to calm things down when things seem to be getting out of control. Egypt lobbied Arafat hard against signing an agreement with Barak, because peace was considered to be a strategic victory for Israel, almost regardless of the terms. Now, Egypt is trying to broker a partial cease-fire with Hamas because that will push Israel to go back to the negotiating table to make more concessions. Bottom line: Egypt is an enemy of Israel, but is constrained by its desire to stay close to America and to avoid war, and therefore its interests and Israel's sometimes dovetail.
So the significance of Mubarak's invitation is: the isolate-Israel strategy has failed. Sharon has consolidated power and captured the Israeli center. The Palestinians, meanwhile, continue to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. With a number of potential coalitions to keep him in power, Sharon is likely to serve out his term. Mubarak knows he will have to deal with him. That's reason enough for Mubarak to want to have a meeting.
What will Mubarak be trying to get out of the meeting? Well, Schiff is right that one aim will be to establish that he, Mubarak, is the reasonable one, and score propaganda points over Sharon with the Americans. But achieving this is a stretch. The Administration is not going to do anything on this front until after the Iraq campaign. And the Iraq war will have significant repercussions throughout the region and in the internal configuration of Israel's electorate. So I don't see the Bush Administration expecting a plan from Sharon until after the war, and I don't see Sharon offering anything but vagueness to anyone except Bush.
After the war, things do change. Bush is highly likely to want to make very real "progress" on this front once the war with Iraq is done. But the wild card in that regard is what happens with the Hashemites. If, for example, the Hashemites wind up taking some kind of role in post-war Iraq - something Abdullah clearly wants, as it would dramatically increase his family's power and prestige - it would not be unreasonable for the Bush Administration to pressure Amman to step up to the plate with respect to the Palestinians as payment; that's something Abdullah does *not* want. And if *that* happens, then what is a reasonable or unreasonable "solution" to the Palestinian problem changes dramatically.
The problem has not changed since the days of Lord Balfour. There's no way to create defensible borders for Israel and a "viable" independent Palestinian state. None. If Israel is to be defensible, then any Palestinian state will be a practical or legal dependency of either Israel or Jordan or both. The Palestinians won't accept being a dependency of Israel, and Jordan hasn't wanted the headache of dealing with another 2-3 million Palestinians. Iraq provides the only possible carrot to bring Jordan back to the table. If the Palestinian "cantons" that so offend Ze'ev Schiff are formally affiliated with Jordan, and if the Israeli presence in the territories is formally limited by treaty, then it seems to me that Israeli security and Palestinian self-determination can be reconciled. If not, then not, and whatever Sharon tells Mubarak won't matter: concessions will provoke more terrorism, while military victory remains elusive.
I don't think Bush is going to demand a quick resolution of the host of issues surrounding the Palestinians. His proposal for an "interim state" involves unsettled borders. He has not talked about dismantling settlements; he's talked about ending the construction of new settlements. And he has clearly predicated any establishment of a state on the removal of Arafat and the reform of Palestinian institutions, which in itself, if it happened, would change the dynamic of negotiations. Sharon does not need to make concessions to Mubarak to keep his relations with the Bush Administration strong, and if that's the case then Mubarak himself is not going to expect too much of the meeting. After the war, when solutions will be demanded, if Israel needs to separate physically from the Palestinians, then they have some very difficult problems to solve: Hevron, Netzarim and Ariel are the easy ones; Jerusalem is the hard one. If, on the other hand, what is really called for is political separation, these problems become much simpler. But that requires an outside partner with credibility. The only possibility is Jordan.