Was Bush Kidding Or Is Olmert Unafraid of Mr. Sitting Duck?

According to Israeli and American officials when George Bush was in Israel a few days ago he made it clear in his closed-door meetings with Ehud Olmert that the US wants all building of settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem stopped until peace negotiations determine the borders of the two states.
It seems he must have specifically remembered the ask he made of Ehud Olmert a while back to dismantle the illegal “outposts” scattered all over and which he had asked Ariel Sharon before in a public letter. Olmert had promised to do so, it seems, but did nothing about it.
Bush moved on with his long-awaited tour of the Arabian Gulf and Olmert went out to declare that the fact the “outposts” remain in place is a “disgrace.” Olmert’s disgrace is evident in regards to these enclaves of ultra-radical settlers who take it upon themselves to steal land and build their “outposts” amidst the Palestinians, armed to the hilt, without any intervention from the authorities. It is his disgrace because he let it happen if not encouraged it.
But his disgrace is compounded when it comes to the government doing it at a much larger scale and describing it as legal. Just as Bush was on his way and as if racing against time, Olmert resumes the ongoing building of settlements that unlike the “outposts” are very difficult to remove.
Construction has just started on 60 new units in Jerusalem’s Ras el Amoud at the infamous settlement of Hazeitim that has been protested by the international community since 1997; to no avail. This terrible settlement must not be allowed to grow not only because of it being built on Arab Jerusalem land and therefore jeopardizes peace possibilities, but also because it jeopardizes a badly needed Palestinian safe passage between the West Bank and Al Aqsa Mosque.
Olmert has also given the green light to build 300 more units in Jabal Abu Ghneim settlement, dubbed by Israel as Har Homa, specifically because after the erection of the Wall of Separation on stolen lands around Bethlehem, this remains the only remaining area which could connect Beit Sahur, Bethlehem and beyond - including Hebron - to Arab East Jerusalem. There are plans to build 1000 more units in addition to the 300 they are building now; all on lands stolen from Palestinians.
George Bush moved on after also supposedly telling Olmert that the USA favours easing the siege on Gaza because the harder the siege and human suffering there, the stronger Hamas gets. Therefore Olmert’s army of terror moved onto Gaza yet again yesterday to kill at least 17 Palestinians including the son of Mahmoud Zahar, the most radical of Hamas leaders; pouring oil on the fire and garnering support around him and his line of radicals within Hamas.
Olmert makes it clear on every possible occasion that he plans no easing on the strip where the civilians have become hungry, unable to deal with the severe winter’s cold and where the besieged sick are dying due to lack of appropriate medical treatment.
Olmert, a man who is confident in his ability to chew gum and walk at the same time, is doing all of this while conducting negotiations with the Palestinian leadership. He will drive negotiations into the wall because negotiations cannot be conducted under such circumstances; the reason they were futile until the arrival of Bush who placed the most important of issues on the table. These actions are a sure way to lift them off the table immediately.
The relentless drive Olmert and his gang have in trying to change reality on the ground as fast as they could to pre-empt the negotiations is not smart on his part but outright dumb because just like George Bush, if Olmert doesn’t achieve peace, he may as well dump himself in the garbage bin of history because this is almost where he is now and a peace agreement is his only hope for political survival.
Obviously, negotiating over Jerusalem and other final status issues is not easy when Olmert’s coalition with the radical right is so fragile. Was he able to convince Bush that construction of settlements and murder in Gaza are necessary to maintain his ugly coalition of no peace? Did Bush officials, knowing how embarrassing these actions will be when he is on tour of the gulf, leak the Bush demands and made them public despite their knowledge of what Olmert plans to do? Did Bush make these demands only to get the Palestinians back on the negotiations table?
Either this or Olmert doesn’t really see a viable threat from turning his back on a sitting duck American president so soon after his visit.
Nevertheless, the radical Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beitenu is seriously thinking of dropping out of the coalition and his meetings with Olmert during the writing of this article could result in just that.
If that happens the coalition legitimised now by 78 members of the 120 seats Knesset will still hold at 67. But if Shas - which has 12 seats at the Knesset - makes true on its promise to bail out of the coalition if Jerusalem is discussed and it is being discussed, then Olmert has two choices to stay out of the garbage bin of history for now:
1- If he wants to continue the charade of a “coalition of all political colours” he would bring in United Torah Judaism with its 6 seats that would give him “half plus one” of the Knesset which he needs to stay in power. This bunch is not into peacemaking with the Palestinians and therefore Olmert’s government will not become a coalition for reaching a peace treaty. Olmert has already declared he would bring the UTJ on board and negotiations with them are undergoing but then he is a liar too.
2- To become a coalition for peace, Olmert would have to go all the way left by bringing in Yossi Beilen’s Meretz on board (5 seats) plus any of the other groups that support peace such as Hadash of Mohamad baraka (3 seats) or Ra’am Ta’al of Talab Sana (4); yes, the Arabs.
With such a coalition it is possible to forge peace with the Palestinians and most importantly Olmert and his gangs would not have to spill Palestinian blood to appease those in their coalition who are more blood-thirsty than they are. Olmert will then be in a coalition with those who are much less blood-thirsty than he is.
Meanwhile, Bush who supposedly wants negotiations to produce results ought to ensure his directives are not taken lightly by his embarrassing buddy if he truly hopes for walking out of the White House with an achievement, any achievement to his name. At this rate, and after Olmert is done with him, he is destined to leave the White House as the limping duck; the laughing stock of the world over. He and Olmert would be stuck together in that bin that seems destined to host them despite our hopes and aspirations.

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About Ramzi Khoury

Ramzi Khoury is an opinion columnist and satirist who publishes a weekly page, Piece of Mind, at the Saudi Gazette and elsewhere every Wednesday, Ramzi E. Khoury started his career in Granada Television in the 80s working on documentaries and since then has worked in the print, television and radio media all over the world. In addition to reporting with international news agencies he held several posts in the media including Chief Sub Editor/Political Editor of the Jordan Times, Editor in Chief of the Arab Daily newspaper and Secretary General of the Arab Media Organization. He continues to be adviser to several newspapers, television and radio stations as well as online media. He has worked with numerous satellite channels on television programs, documentaries and news and is often invited to offer his political analysis on television and radio stations from all over the world especially on Mideast and related issues. Currently based in Malaysia with extensive travel in the Middle East and Europe Khoury advices governments and private sector organizations on Perception Management with focus on issues related to politics and religion including the divide between the Muslim World and the West and is active with several non-government organizations. Before Malaysia he was based in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Palestine, Jordan, USA and the UK in order.

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