Stuff is Churning — and Maybe Moving — on Israel-Palestine Front


I’ve had about a dozen appointments today, all over Tel Aviv. I think I’ve learned a lot about this place but also know that I haven’t yet really scratched the surface of the Israel-Palestine dance around an eventual, permanent two-state agreement.
Tomorrow is Palestinian Day, and I’ll be in Ramallah.
But one can just sit around here, in meetings, and feel that earthquakes are going on all around. While I sat in former Israel Justice Minister Yossi Beilin‘s office this morning, news came in over my guide’s cell phone alert system that Defense Minister Shaul Mafaz — a tough, right-wing member of the Likud Party and a candidate for head of the Likud — had quit that party and joined recently defeated Labor Party head Shimon Peres, Chaim Ramon, and a variety of other Labor Party and Likud Party members following Ariel Sharon into a new, seemingly-centrist party called Kadima.
There is a lot of tension about this new party Kadima. Some here are comparing Ariel Sharon to Argentina’s late Juan Peron. One observer said that everyone — on the right and the left — is lining up to be a Peronist, well a “Sharonist” in this case.
At another meeting today, this one at the Ministry of Defense, we learned that the U.S. Ambassador to Israel had been there for a couple of hours that very day pressuring the Israelis to move faster regarding various parts of the ‘framework agreement’ that Condoleezza Rice had secured during her recent visit. The Ambassador supposedly stated that he is reporting back to the Secretary on a daily basis and that he feels under great pressure to get all aspects of this recent accord implemented by agreed timelines.
The officials we were meeting with, however, made the point that there is virtually no one at the “working level” of Palestinian’s civil government to work with. There is “no address” of a person to work with — and this refers to some of the logistical issues involved with removing check points, or setting up a convoy system from Gaza to the West Bank, and many other issues — including the shipping of Palestinian strawberries to Europe via new cargo docks the Israelis built — because there is literally no one consistently working at the lower-level of civil management on the Palestinian side.
There is a lot I don’t yet understand. But I have learned that the Palestinian-Israeli quagmire is much more complex than I imagined.
But I also feel — both from the empirical evidence that I observed — that the U.S. Ambassador meeting with working level Israelis is a sign of roll-up-the-sleeve seriousness about moving parts of the Palestinian agenda on self-determination forward.
I am not sure what Ariel Sharon is up to with his right-left, newfangled party, but it is clear that the ‘status quo’ which Likud was trying to preserve is no longer an option.
Fascinating day, and tomorrow in Ramallah should be even better.
— Steve Clemons