Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rosner's FAQ on the state of affairs in the Middle East

By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz US Correspondent

Coming back from several briefings and presentations, mostly in the hospitable Jewish community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I went through my notes and noticed that in most of these meeting people tend to ask similar questions, and usually want the bottom line. They know that I do not represent anyone but myself, and that there are many different and even contradictory opinions out there, but want to get an opinion of the pressing questions of the day. For them, and for others who might be interested in this one humbled opinion, I've compiled this list of 13 Frequently Asked Questions, and my one-line answers.

Will the Olmert government survive? Who knows. The big test will be the Winograd Committee report. If Olmert survives this, he can probably stay in power for quite a while, unless one of the criminal investigations against him yields an undisputable indictment.

Is there a chance for a breakthrough in the talks with the Palestinians? No. Abbas is too weak, Olmert is too weak, Bush is too weak, and those opposing peace are too strong.

What's going to happen in the Palestinian Authority
The conflict has not yet been solved, and even if there's an agreement, it's just a matter of time until the next round of violence.

Will Israel leave the West Bank? Only when there's someone to hand the keys to, who can provide relative security to Israelis (peace is important, but less so).

Isn't it true that polls show most Israelis and Palestinians want peace, and would accept an agreement based on the Clinton parameters? Maybe so, but it doesn't matter. People use the polls when elections don't provide for the desired outcome, but at the end, only elections and decisions matter, not desires put in general terms.

Why is it that Israel is still settling people in the West Bank? Inertia is the answer. Israelis - most of them - have realized by now that the occupied territory will not stay in their hands forever. Asking about the settlements a year and a half after the pullout from Gaza is asking a question of yesterday. Israel proved that it can evacuate settlers, and will do so again if and when necessary.

What is Syria's game? What do they want? In short, they want Lebanon. If one is willing to trade Lebanon for other issues (Iraq, Israel, terror etc), one might get something from Assad. If not, it's a waste of time.

But shouldn't Israel negotiate anyway? It's a tough decision. On the one hand, Israel needs to show goodwill whenever there is an Arab leader wanting to talk. On the other hand, Israel's most important ally is saying that such talks would be harmful to its strategy. Can Israel ignore such a claim when its leaders presume that this will not lead to peace anyway?

What about the democratization of the Middle East? Democratization is dead, unilateralism is dead. Now it's the "moderates" against the "extremists."

Will the Saudi plan work for Israel? No, but it can serve as a basis for negotiations.

What's going on in Lebanon after the war? It's a mess. Hezbollah is still alive and kicking and the forces fighting it can't make it go away. The world is trying to bolster the Lebanese prime minister, but will find it very hard as long as Hezbollah is the strongest military power in Lebanon and as long as it's receiving assistance from Iran and Syria.

Why didn't Israel win the Lebanon war? Overly ambitious goals poorly executed.

Will the U.S./Israel attack Iran? My only advice: Don't believe anyone who pretends to know the answer to this one.

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