Peace possibilities take back seat to Winograd fallout

An Arab League working team made up of representatives from Egypt and Jordan is expected to arrive in Israel in the coming days to discuss the Saudi peace plan with government officials.

Although the Winograd Committee interim report won’t prevent the team’s arrival, it will prevent the likelihood of anything substantial coming out of their visit.

It’s no secret Israel would like some symbolic act of recognition from states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar or any of the other Arab League states it doesn’t have ties with, in large part to strengthen the position of those Palestinians who would like to reach some accommodation with Israel.

If, for instance, Saudi Arabia were to publicly recognize Israel or give it legitimacy, it would significantly weaken the position of Hamas.

But place yourself in the position of Saudi King Abdullah right now. Say you are petrified of Iran, and fearful of growing Shi’ite radicalism that is threatening your regime. Say you also want to move closer to Israel, and you are even considering a handshake with the Israeli prime minister, a move that would have huge significance in the Arab world.

Would you shake hands with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today, not knowing if you might wake up tomorrow grasping the hand Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu rather than Olmert?

For the foreseeable future, all major diplomatic steps are frozen.

Sure, meetings will be held. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comes back to Israel later in the month to meet again with Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Foreign Ministry officials will continue holding dialogues with their European counterparts. The Quartet will meet. The G-8 summit will talk about the Middle East situation. But the chances of anything significant happening on the diplomatic front soon — or at least until the Israeli domestic diplomatic picture clears up — are slim.

Maintenance, not initiative, will be the name of the diplomatic game that will be played here over the next few weeks, even months, until the storm over Winograd passes and the political scene stabilizes.

This places Olmert in a bind. On the one hand, he desperately needs a dramatic diplomatic step to breathe life into his fading political career. On the other hand, it is unlikely anyone on the other side will be willing to take such a step not knowing whether Olmert will be around in two months to see the dance through.

In the meantime, everyone will continue going through the motions. Olmert, Rice, Abbas, even the Arab League representatives from Jordan and Egypt.

Until the domestic political situation in Israel straightens itself out, there will be much more of what was seen in the last few months in the run-up to the publication of the Winograd Report: motion without movement, motion for motion’s sake.