It seems that somebody has decided to take the bull of stagnant peace negotiations by the horns of destiny and give themselves an ultimatum. The shock is, that somebody is Mahmoud Abbas. I say "shock", but a little analysis shows that Mr. Abbas is the only person in a position to do anything at the moment:
- Ehud Olmert is in the midst of a corruption investigation and is unlikely to win the coming Israeli elections.
- Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashal (of Hamas) can't make any significant change without incurring the wrath of their membership.
- George W. Bush is fading into the famous "lame duck" stage of his presidency. (This was amply displayed by his rather limp speeches surrounding Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations.)
- Tony Blair doesn't seem to have the respect of anyone in the Middle East - certainly not the Palestinians. This is reflected in his lack of visible progress since his appointment as the Quartet's envoy in the region.
Mr. Abbas's acknowledgement that "regional extremists [are] coming out victorious [while] both the Israelis and the Palestinians are reluctant to make a deal" is also significant. I believe that this statement is the first time a Palestinian President has tacitly acknowledged his own negotiation team's reluctance to compromise with Israel. I do not believe that Yasser Arafat would ever have said such a thing.
In my opinion, little concrete progress will be made until Olmert, Abbas and Bush have all been replaced. I predict that their successors will be Binyamin Netanyahu, Mustafa Barghouti and Barack Obama, respectively. If this situation were to arise, Israel might once again be seen as the belligerent side, if Mr. Netanyahu's recent speeches in the Knesset, and elsewhere, are a good guide to his current philosophy. None of this bodes well in the short term, but once the current generation, known forever to me as a generation clinging to the status quo, is replaced, perhaps we will have reason to be more optimistic.