Will Bush offer new Camp David to Abbas?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Andrei Murtazin) - The U.S. president's second tour of the Middle East has not cleared up the confusing jumble of dashed hopes for peace in the Middle East either generally, or in particular.

George W. Bush visited Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and conducted talks with all of the region's leading politicians - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Chairman of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, and his Jordanian counterpart Abdullah II. Bush talked at length about democratization of the Middle East, the struggle against terrorism, and the need for a new Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, but he did not say anything new. The Arabs expected him to suggest a specific plan for the formation of a Palestinian state, a new roadmap.

There were no surprises. Bush did not come up with either a new roadmap, or tentative dates for further agreements. Probably the most important results were left behind closed doors. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained to journalists that Bush spoke about laying the foundation for the next 60 years, when the Middle East will certainly include a democratic Palestinian state. She said that at the talks he reaffirmed his intention to seek an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement before the end of his term, that is, before next January. Without being specific, Rice added that implementation of these agreements and formation of a sovereign Palestinian state would occupy some time.

Abbas is much less optimistic. At a news conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, he said that the PNA leaders were engaged in talks with Israel, but they would not create the illusion that many issues have been resolved. As a gloomy footnote he reminded his audience that to date not a single file has been closed.

What kind of peace between Palestinians and Israelis are we talking about today? This is the only one, which exists for the time being - between the Olmert cabinet, and PNA and Fatah leader Abbas, who only controls some West Bank areas. It is on this territory that a Palestinian state could be proclaimed, but it is not likely to exist without direct Israeli and U.S. support, and the donor aid of the UN and Arab sponsors.

Under the UN resolution on the Middle East, a Palestinian state should be established not only on the West Bank but also in the Gaza Strip. And, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, Abbas insists that East Jerusalem should be proclaimed its capital.

I assume that under certain conditions, Israel would be ready to make certain concessions to Abbas, and return East Jerusalem to the Arabs (the then Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, spoke about this in 2000). But I cannot imagine how Gaza could be returned to the control of Fatah. It is Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, that is running the whole show there, and Abbas will never be able to seize power from them, considering that this movement legitimately defeated the Fatah at the ballot box before it resorted to an armed rebellion.

The Israeli army could overthrow the Hamas regime in Gaza, and then hand the reigns of power to the Fatah, but the PNA leader will never accept this for fear of being seen as a of collaborator by both Gaza residents and all other Arabs.

Under the old roadmap proposed by the Mid-Eastern Quartet (America, Russia, the UN, and the EU) in 2003, the warring parties were supposed to recognize each other's right to exist and renounce violence, while Israel was meant to gradually hand over to Palestinian control the territories occupied during the 1967 war. But now the situation is entirely different - Palestine is split, and Gaza is occupied by Hamas, which cannot recognize Israel by definition. Its ideologists still adhere to the 1964 Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on the destruction of the "Zionist formation" (i.e. the state of Israel), which was publicly renounced by Arafat.

Needless to say, Washington can draft a new roadmap but it will be able to implement it only on the half of Palestinian territory under Abbas' and Fatah's control. This scenario is possible, but it will only bring peace to a small part of the Palestinian people - West Bankers. There will be no civil war between Fatah and Hamas because the two Palestinian enclaves will be separated by the powerful buffer, Israel. The rebellious Gaza Strip will be squeezed between Israel and Egypt. Bush, Hosni Mubarak, and Olmert must have discussed the introduction of inter-Arab peacekeepers into the region, of which the Egyptian military may form the backbone. We should not forget that before the 1967 war, the Gaza Strip belonged to Egypt and was ruled by Egyptian administration. History may repeat itself.

It would be ideal for Bush to lay the foundations of a new Mid-Eastern peace, which could be described as Camp David-2. If Bush suggests this course, the Republicans would be able to make up, at least partially, for the failure of their policy in Iraq.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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