During his two days visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet with Israel Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, Israel’s Minister of Defense, Ehud Olmert and Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni. He is also scheduled to visit the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem as well as the Palestinian Muqata’a where he will meet Mahmoud Abbas.
According to Israel’s Ynet website, in his meeting on Wednesday with US President Bush in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to lay down Israel’s red lines in regards to matters pertaining to security, economics, infrastructure and quality of life. Olmert will clarify what Israel considers non-negotiable in future talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Those red lines were declared already by Israel and include what Israel considers as security issues, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and the rejection right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Bush will also be briefed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the security situation in the West Bank and Gaza and by Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni on the status of the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to instruct their negotiating teams to hold talks on core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to a report published in Haaretz, all the core issues in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for a final status agreement will be discussed in a special committee headed by Livni and Qureia.
Olmert and Abbas will monitor the progress of the negotiations and will contribute to resolving deadlocks.
Neither side gave a start date for the talks, although Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the talks would begin immediately.
Despite Bush’s declaration that “The alliance between our two nations [Israel and the US] helps guarantee Israel’s security as a Jewish state,” the chances of a deal before Bush leaves office in January 2009 appear slim, and no breakthroughs are expected during his visit.
Parliamentary arithmetic in Israel prevents Prime Minister Olmert from moving forward with the Annapolis process. Two major partners to his 78 MK coalition oppose the peace process and have declared their readiness to leave government.
On Tuesday, Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch of Yisrael Beiteinu told Ynet that he would resign from the government by the end of the week if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launches talks on the core issues, including Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and the permanent borders of a future Palestinian state.
According to a senior official in the Israeli Shas Party, the party would consider quitting the coalition “if during the negotiations on a permanent agreement proposals for concessions in Jerusalem and the holy sites are put on the table.”
There were also concerns that Israel’s continuous military offensive in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will undermine the Annapolis process.
In a visit to military commanders in the West Bank on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Minister said, “Israel has no intention of throwing they key over to the other side and hoping for the best.” Moreover, she added, “for this reason, we must simultaneously work to alter the situation in the field and persist in the struggle against terrorism [sic.].”
However, during his tour to the Middle East, Bush also hopes to enlist Arab support to help contain US foe Iran. Building an anti-Iran Arab coalition will require moving forward on the Israeli-Palestinian venue as well as diminishing the Israeli-Egyptian tensions regarding the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip.
During 2007, Israel continuously accused Egypt of not doing enough to stop the smuggling of arms and money through the Gaza-Egypt border and even worked in Washington to condition US aid to Egypt if the later do not improve its performance.
In November 2007, videotapes were sent to Washington with the intention of influencing US Congressional hearings on the future of US foreign military aid to Egypt. According to the Jerusalem Post, the tapes were sent by the defense establishment to the embassy in Washington, but had only been shown to US administration officials—from the White House and the State Department—and not to the Congress. Behind the decision was the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which believed that were Israel to show the tapes to Congress and openly lobby against Egypt, Israeli-Egyptian relations could be irreversibly damaged. This decision was taken against the recommendations of the Israeli defense establishment.
Mr. Bush and his 1000 person delegation may enjoy a visit to the Holly Land and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem at the expense of the US tax payers, however it is doubtful that the current course of Israeli politics in respect to the Palestinian Authority as well as the Arab World, leave any room for success in the Annapolis process or in building an Arab anti-Iranian coalition.