Soft and softer

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is here in Washington trying to sell the U.S. on his plan to withdraw from much of the West Bank in exchange for nothing from the Palestinians. The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration is “uneasy” about this plan. And well it might be. The withdrawal enables Hamas to make the West Bank into “a Taliban-style safe-heaven for other terrorists” (to quote Frank Gaffney) and a staging ground for its own rocket (and other) attacks against the heart of Israel. In fact, the Post reports that the King of Jordan has expressed fear for his country’s security under Olmert’s plan.

But the administration’s unease with Olmert is not based on this kind of concern. Instead, the administration thinks that Olmert is being too tough. According to the Post, Bush is pleased that Olmert’s plan contains the seeds of a Palestinian state, but worried that it constitutes a “land grab” (remember this is the unilateral surrender of land and the forced closure of 72 settlements with at least 60,000 residents) or at least will so appear to the Europeans. Thus, the administration reportedly has been leaning on Olmert to negotiate with Palestinian figure head Abbas rather than simply withdrawing.

The administration’s posture demonstrates the ultimate futility of Olmert’s plan, even assuming that it doesn’t massively set back Israeli security. What Olmert sees as a final settlement of the dispute over Israel’s borders the rest of the world sees as an illegitimate land grab. Thus, Israel will come under more pressure from the U.S. and others to negotiate with the Palestinians (if Bush is leaning on Israel on behalf of the Europeans, imagine how much more a Democratic president would lean) and eventually will succumb. But instead of negotiating from the present highly favorable map, it will be negotiating from a shrunken position.

Meanwhile, a “senior administration official” warned that Bush today would be asking Olmert lots of tough questions about his plan. Yes, but all the wrong ones.

UPDATE: The Post reports that after their meeting today, President Bush praised Prime Minister Olmert’s plan but stopped short of endorsing it. Bush stated, “While any final-status agreement will be only achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes and no party should prejudice the outcome of negotiations on a final-status agreement, the prime minister’s ideas could be an important step toward the peace we both support.”

Exactly. Israel is making a huge territorial concession in exchange for nothing except its closest ally’s warning that it had better be prepared to make more concessions.

JOHN adds: Conventional reporting on Olmert’s trip to the U.S. and the administration’s response should be read in conjunction with the latest information on the bombers who recently attacked Egypt:

The Egyptian interior ministry said Tuesday, May 23, that the three suicide bombers responsible for the triple explosion that rocked the Sinai resort of Dahab on April 24, leaving more than 20 dead, had been trained in weapons and bomb-making by Palestinian religious fundamentalists in the neighboring Gaza Strip.

DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources: Although refraining from naming the Palestinian group, Cairo has radically altered its position and is now prepared to publicly acknowledge al Qaeda’s active presence in the Gaza Strip and hook-up with Palestinian terrorists. This the Israeli government has studiously avoided admitting.

Our Middle East sources calculate that the statement from Cairo may have been timed for the day of the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s first meeting with US president George W. Bush at the White House Tuesday.

What is most interesting about this is that the last thing Egypt’s government wants is for Israel to withdraw from the remaining Palestinian territories:

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was never enamored of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from [Gaza] and is dead against Olmert’s proposal for another such pull-back from part of the West Bank, appears to be presenting a demonstration of cause-and-effect, namely al Qaeda-Palestinian collaboration as deriving from the first evacuation.

Normally, events prevail over all else. But, for some reason that is not easily understood, when it comes to Israel’s relations with its neighbors, a priori theories seem always to take precedence, no matter what actually happens in the region.

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