Pinhas Inbari

Copyright: Pinhas Inbari on line

The reports on PM Olmert police investigations are of course primarily Israeli internal issue, but it has implications on the regional situation and the Palestinian arena.

Although Olmert will try and drag the posture of "business as usual" as long as he can regional factors can perceive that he is a limping duck that cannot deliver. It is primarily relevant to the Palestinian track in which his partner, Abu Mazen was conceived as the limping duck that should be bolstered.

Hence to evaluate future chances of advancing the Annapolis track we have first to evaluate the Israeli arena.

Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, is fully immersed in the Annapolis process and as she is Olmert's deputy and formal substitute, once Olmert has to be removed for an "incapability period" – similar to the president Katzav's case – Livni is considered to take his place and give full push ahead with the peace process with the Palestinians and maybe also with Syria.

But this scenario will not materialize basically because Livni is not part of the core of Kadima founders and their natural allies. Kadima was founded by the circles of Sharon family. They have never esteemed Livni. The core founders are allied with Shas, Lieberman and Barak and will not permit passing the power to Livni. They even may prefer to pass it to Barak rather to Livni. Hence, the more plausible scenario would be that as last resort Olmert might resign and cause the government to topple – so he will lead the government in the interim period until early election takes place.

In this period he will try to push ahead the peace process but this time the Palestinians- as Palestinian high ranking sources in Ramallah confirmed to us- will not invest in this limping duck. It is questionable what kind of "peace process" he can conduct between investigations and probably formal criminal charges. The whole legal aspects are obscure, but as far as the "core" group of Kadima founders is concerned- Livni is no choice for them. It was apparent that while Livni was backing in her statements the "law enforcement authorities"  rather than her party's leader, Barak, his ally in Labor party wished Olmert to safely pass over this plight. Hence, as real power is not expected to pass to Livni, even as formal temporary Prime Minister, and the Annapolis process looks as reached deadlock.

In the Palestinian arena this is far of being good news. Abu Mazen needs Olmert's partnership to survive- regardless of results of negotiations. This disruption of the Annapolis track came in a critical period when Hamas succeeded to enforce on Egypt and Israel its terms of ceasefire and in this week visit of Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence boss,  in Israel the beginning of the ceasefire will be seriously discussed. Both, Olmert and Barak are basically in favor of this ceasefire but they have reservations  they have passed to the Egyptian mediator. Even if temperature in Gaza gets high and violence might erupt- it should be perceived as an introduction to ceasefire.

In the course of time this may entail improvement of EU relations with Hamas and a new stage on the way of recognizing it. Not only in Gaza Hamas is bolstered - a very worrying development took place in Jordan when a Hamas' like wing of Moslem Brothers took over the movement there. It means that Jordanian Moslem Brothers are about to get militarized with all dangers involved. According to Ramallah's sources Khaled Mash'al and Syria were deeply involved in the Jordanian development. (Hence, we can expect that Jordan will be disappointed once Israel and Hamas will come closer, instead of Israel containing Hamas' spread). 

In the current stage Hamas is not interested in the West Bank and concentrate on solidifying its rule in Gaza- but not for long. After ending the blockade on Gaza and gathering further popularity there, and solidifying  the progress they got in Jordan, it is matter of time only before they will appear full force in the West bank as well.  

The decline of Abu Mazen was apparent even before the latest deterioration of Olmert's situation. He was 'politely" received in Washington with no real results and also in  the London donors' conference he got final message from the Gulf that they are not interested in the Annapolis process and the changing tone towards Hamas by the EU did upset him—according to Ramallah sources.

Bush' this week visit in Israel is another source of worrying. Abu Mazen learned in Washington that Bush planned to re-confirm in his Knesset's address his commitment to Sharon not to have any refugee to be settled in Israel and Israel right to keep settlements blocks according to the notion of "defensible borders". Once giving this renewed commitment Abu Mazen will be exposed to lethal criticism from all sides internally. Ramallah sources confirmed  that indeed Rice was asked to dissuade Bush of giving this renewed commitment to Israel.  

Rice made special efforts to insert a "peace process" element to Bush' visit, but he seems as indifferent. We don’t know to what extent he will yield to her pressures. Olmert and Barak however support Abu Mazen's standpoint. One of the first verbal understandings between Olmert and Abu Mazen was to base future borders on 1967 lines- hence to skip commitments given to Sharon.

It was reported after last Olmert's-Abu Mazen's meeting that major development was achieved on the borders issue. It might be assumed that the parties decided to return to the 1967 principles rather than Bush' commitments.

Sum up:  Olmert's investigation added him to Abu Mazen as "limping duck" turning the whole Annapolis process into "full gas in neutral". The Kadima core and its allies will not let Livni take over; hence Olmert will lead the country in the interim period before early elections. We don’t know the legal aspects of Prime Minister conducting state affairs under investigations or even charges, because no legislator could have conceived such a situation. In this case Livni might be nominal PM but paralyzed unable to lead the Annapolis process as wished.

This Israeli constitutional upheaval came when an effective government is most needed: Lebanon is overtaken by Hizbullah and Hamas is progressing in both Gaza and Jordan, with an eye on the West Bank.

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