Blogs > HNN > The U.S. Supports Olmert's Plan

May 29, 2006 12:21 pm

The U.S. Supports Olmert's Plan

As Prime Minister Olmert visits President George W. Bush, American policymakers really like his new strategy but they aren't quite going to admit it publicly. Here are the reasons why they are positive about Israel's strategy and why they are not going to say so too loudly.

First, U.S. officials know that there is no serious alternative. They are well aware that Hamas is not interested in peace and that its Fatah rivals are not exactly dovish either. There are no illusions that the Road Map might actually work or that negotiations are going to make any progress right now or even during the two and half years that Bush has left in the White House.

Second, however, Israeli withdrawals give the impression that progress is being made. The Palestinians will have an opportunity to show themselves read for freedom--though they might not take it--and the occupation is diminishing. The United States wants to reduce the focus on this issue and put the highest priority on dealing with Iran and Iraq, which are pretty giant problems on their own.

Third, Israel's unilateral actions do not cost the United States very much in terms of political capital or money, at least for now. It is a strategy that does not require the United States to do very much. At a later point, Olmert may ask for large-scale aid to pay compensation to settlers. But that is still in the future and Bush is not making any commitment to pay.

Finally, unlike the Europeans, American policymakers do not feel cut out of the action by Israel acting without U.S. involvement. Given other American commitments, they are relieved.

But why, then, if Israel's convergence, realignment (or whatever it's being called this week) policy has advantages for the United States doesn't Bush want to support it more enthusiastically?

There are good reasons for this stance as well. The United States is committed to the Road Map plan and doesn't want friction with European allies who adore a scheme promising quick peace and a direct role for them. If the plan has no chance of succeeding, giving it verbal support does no harm. And, of course, Bush needs European backing for stabilizing Iraq, stopping Iran's nuclear program, and lots of other issues.

Similarly, by sticking with the Road Map position and not being too involved as the sponsor of Israel's new policy, Bush can also avoid more friction with Arab regimes whose help he also wants on Iran and Iraq.

He is also preserving one of the most basic principles of U.S. policy: that the terms of an Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian peace must be worked out by both sides. If Bush comes out for convergence it would also signal Israeli leaders that they might stake their claims to any boundaries they want as permanent.

This does not mean that the United States won't support the idea of changing the pre-1967 borders as part of a peace settlement. After all, not only did Bush accept this at the time of the Gaza withdrawal, it was also endorsed by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, back in 2000.

Thus, while Olmert is getting a good reception in Washington--and public opinion polls show support for Israel at all-time highs--Bush will be more positive during the private meetings than he will in public statements.

comments powered by Disqus