As Tzipi Livni, the newly elected chairwoman of the Kadima
Party, labored to form a coalition government with the Sephardic religious
party “Shas” under pressure of a 42-day limit, the “peace” talks between Israel
and the Palestinians (Mahmoud Abbas) went nowhere. Shas demanded 800 million
Shekel in subsidies for large families. In addition, Shas wanted guarantees
from Livni that Jerusalem will not be part of the negotiations with the
With the core issues of Jerusalem and refugees remaining
irresolvable between the Palestinians and Israel, and Bashar Assad, the Syrian
dictator pulling out his negotiating team from talks with Israel through
Turkish mediators, the peace prospects in the region are non-existent. At the
same time, the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah-Hamas axis has made significant
Aware of the impasse in the peace negotiations, Israel’s
former Labor Prime Minister (1999-2001) and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak
proposed this week the resurrection of the Saudi Peace Plan as part of the
Livni government political platform. The Saudi Peace Plan was released at the
Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, conceived under U.S. pressure in the aftermath
of the 9/11 attack on America. The Saudi plan calls for total Israeli
withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including withdrawal from the strategic Golan
Heights, East Jerusalem (and the Jewish Quarter), and the West Bank (Judea and
Samaria) in exchange for full diplomatic relations with the Arab States.
Barak has no problems with a total Israeli withdrawal to the
June 1967 borders, the late Abba Eban (Israel’s chief diplomat and Foreign
Minister) called “the Auschwitz boundaries.” In fairness, Barak proposed to
present an Israeli Peace Plan as a modification of the Saudi Plan, taking the
Saudi proposals as its basis. To most Israelis however, the Saudi Plan is dead
and buried, and Saudi influence along with that of Egypt among the Palestinians
The prospects of general elections in Israel in the
foreseeable future are high, and polls indicate a sweeping Likud victory that
would make Barak’s archrival Benjamin Netanyahu Israel’s next Prime Minister. To
bolster his credentials, Barak is attempting to create momentum for a new
policy initiative that would distract from the disastrous policies and conduct
of the discredited Ehud Olmert/Kadima government.
Barak is trying at the same time to direct attention to
Israel’s most sensitive existential problem: how to address the Iranian threat?
Barak believes that Israel must work with the moderate Arab (Egypt and Saudi
Arabia) states that share Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and
the growing influence and control of its proxies Syria and the Hezbollah in
Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And while it is true that the Saudis are
in a bitter struggle with Iran over influence on Lebanon, and Gaza, and the
Gulf, the Saudi side does not appear eager to cooperate with Israel.
In Lebanon at the moment, Syrian forces are concentrated
along Lebanon’s borders, poised to attack the Saudi supported Sunni-Muslim
militias in Northern Lebanon led by Saad Hariri whose father Rafiq was murdered
by Syrian operatives.
Saad Hariri was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and upon
the death of his father, he returned to Lebanon to lead the Future (Sunni Muslim)
Movement, his father created. It is the largest Sunni Muslim party and part of
the pro-Western group in Lebanon, seeking to develop a democratic state. Iran
has gained political influence in Beirut in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon
war between Israel and Hezbollah, which many considered a victory for Hezbollah,
a cat’s paw for Tehran.
Syria is interested in reasserting it position in Lebanon
after being pressured by the West to withdraw its forces in April 2005. Iran
and its proxy in Lebanon, the Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah militia, are supporting
the Syrians. According to intelligence sources, a boiling point is fast
approaching for another war in Lebanon, this time between Tehran and Riyadh
through their proxies.
Ehud Barak might be thinking that the convergence of
interests between Israel and the Saudis in Lebanon might lead to the
resurrection of a modified and more easily acceptable Saudi plan. But given
Israel’s lackluster performance in the 2006 war in Lebanon, and Barak’s own
order for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000,
Israel’s ability to influence the outcome of war between the pro-Western
militias and Syria and the Hezbollah, is suspect.
More troubling, Israel’s failure to stop Iran’s quest for a
nuclear bomb, has clearly given the upper hand to the Iran/Syria-Hezbollah/Hamas