The Israeli daily Yediot Ahoronot gave us the clearest insight into the impasse back on October 5. The Hebrew version reported that “US President George Bush said a few days ago that there is no point in discussing an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This is not the time, he told a group of European leaders. A classified report on the content of President Bush’s statement reached the senior political echelon in Jerusalem a few days ago, and was placed on the table of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Americans also sent tough messages to Israel in the past few days about the possibility that Jerusalem might renew negotiations with the Syrians.”
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Olmert is not about to cross his good friend George Bush, nor interfere with the neconservative-inspired plans that are still hatching in Washington. And Washington is not interested in seeing a more reasonable Syria, especially not one whose reason must be obtained through negotiations and concessions. That would prove that diplomacy, rather than force, was the preferable option, not only with Syria, but also in Iraq and in dealing with Iran.
This is a very clear case of Washington simply ordering Israel not to pursue a course of peace. It should evoke outrage in Israel. One reason it has not is that Ehud Olmert backed off his initial statement that peace talks with Syria would be contrary to US interests. He changed that stance amid political and media criticism, and quite likely at US behest. His updated version was that no talks with Syria were possible as long as Syria supported terrorism. It’s a very tired, but effective, old tune. Circular logic is its name and it sings of not trying to end a conflict until the fighting stops. The stance has no sense to it, but it does have some measure of popular appeal.
The Israeli refusal may have been ordered by Washington, but the Israeli government cannot escape its own culpability in ignoring not only this document, but months of Syrian offers to restart negotiations. Olmert is by far the weakest leader Israel has ever had, and despite his party’s pretensions toward “centrism”, Kadima is and has always been a right-wing party. Thus, as Ha’aretz’s Uzi Benziman put it in a brilliant op-ed, “This is a ludicrous spectacle, the irony of which fades in light of its depressing significance: Israel’s leaders are trying hard to prove to its citizens that they are not involved in a move to end 60 years of hostility with its Syrian neighbor. These leaders are kowtowing to residents of the Golan Heights, the settlers and the American government.”