Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Seams

The seams around the coalition sewn together by PM Ehud Olmert are coming undone. Minister of Transportation Shaul Mofaz of the Kadmah party, who is both a former Defense Minister and Chief-of-Staff, came out against PM Olmert’s decision to enter the war in Lebanon II only a few days before the cease-fire.

One of the Kadima stalwarts criticized Mofaz, telling Israel Radio that it was unethical for a member of the party to criticize the leader of the party in public. Mofaz was urged to resign his cabinet post if he was unhappy with Olmert, who is also the leader of the Kadmiah party.

At the end of last week Mofaz also said that Israel should start thinking about a virtual two-state solution with the Palestinians. The same party official also reminded the listeners that it was Mofaz who scaled back the IDF and opened it up to the vulnerabilities which Hezbollah exploited.

Avigdor Leiberman, of the right-wing Israel Beitenu party, and is also a Minister in Olmert’s cabinet, has said he would pull his party out of the coalition if PM Olmert made any core concessions to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of President George W. Bush’s visit to Israel.

Members of the labor party are also calling for Minister of Defense Ehud Barak to keep to his word and withdraw from the coalition if the Winnograd commission’s report harshly criticizes PM Olmert’s behavior in the last war in Lebanon. The commission's report is due out in two weeks. Some analysts think that the sharks smell Olmert’s blood, and want to be in position to be out of range when the critics start to tear Olmert apart following the publication of the report.

The mood in Israel changed slightly during the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush. President Bush told the press that he was the first US president to ever come out publicly for a two-state solution, and push to have talks proceed to implement this objective.

Analysts have said that Bush is probably the best chance the two sides have if they ever want to reach a peace settlement. President Bush is deeply committed to a two-state solution and said he would work tirelessly to see it come to fruition. Pundits say that none of the Presidential candidates on the horizon would be as committed. Slowly the Israeli public is beginning to see that President Bush may just be their best hope for peace with the Palestinians.

This type of radical thinking has caused a few jaws to drop. Up until and even during the beginning of his visit, most analysts discounted any positive conclusion from the Bush visit, just as they shook their heads in dismay at the Annapolis Summit’s lack of progress. However the US President made it clear he was the best opportunity, and that if the Palestinians and the Israelis wanted to start making some progress, now is the time.

Some observers believe that even if PM Olmert is tossed out of office over the Winnograd Commission’s report, whoever takes his place will be able to seize the reins of the same bandwagon that US President Bush has placed on the parade grounds. President Bush has until Dec 31, 2008 to implement his goals. Some people believe that the Israeli establishment might just begin to move in the direction Bush outlined.

Should U.S. Sec of State Condoleeza Rice begin to put pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians, and couple the pressure with some type of shuttle diplomacy, it is possible that some sort of agreement can be hammered out by the time Israel’s 60th birthday party rolls around. President Bush has said he would return for the celebrations, and has accepted an invitation to speak at the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.

As far as the U.S. Presidential race goes, a recent poll shows that most Israelis favor Hilary Clinton over Barak Obama for the Democratic nomination. While observers are convinced that Obama would continue the strong support of the US for Israel should he be elected, they are skeptical of Obama’s commitment to furthering the peace process, and concerned he may be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than the Israeli.

The New England Patriots defeated the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs for the NFL division championships. Israelis are rooting for New England since the owners, the Kraft family, are generous supporters of Jewish and Israeli causes. Among other charitable pursuits, the Krafts donated a small football and baseball field a stone’s throw from Israel’s Knesset.

The 16-0 Patriots are expected to go to the Super Bowl. Robert Kraft, the patriarch of the family, has said that since donating the football field, and made some other gifts in Israel, the Patriots have had winning seasons.

Maybe he should donate a new conference hall for the various sides to the Arab-Israeli conflict to have their discussions, sort of a mini-UN. If peace is achieved, he may well be guaranteed not only an NFL championship, but a box seat in the world to come.