Friday, May 03, 2002

Running out the clock? Many people speculate regarding whether the Bush team has some sort of "master plan" for the Middle East or is simply "wobbling" between supporting Israel and making concessions to Arab and European pressure.

The perception in Israel is probably closer to the latter explanation. But I think that Israelis are primarily appreciative of the support that comes from the US on the most important issues - especially in comparison to the dramatic "disconnect" and lack of understanding that come from Europe and the global media.

Still, it's very hard to fathom the logic for Powell's proposing an international conference. So maybe the idea is just to "run out the clock" on Arafat. He's a national symbol - but he's old, his health is failing, and his image has deteriorated in the wake of the Ramallah standoff.

In a major faux pas a while ago, Defence Minister Ben-Eliezer quoted a private remark of Condoleeza Rice to the effect that Arafat is a liar and that dealing with him is pointless. So the idea could be to stall for 6 months, or a year, in hopes that he will "retire".

Arafat's successors might be equally hard-line, but would probably be more susceptible to outside pressure. This article describes some intrigues in the Fatah organization among various potential successors. One of them - Jibril Rajoub - has worked with the CIA and some wishful thinkers describe him as a pragmatist.

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