Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Gang of four

It's amazing how often any reference to Debka, the Israeli intelligence site, carries a disclaimer about its occasional lapses into speculation. There is a posting up there today which claims that a new regional club of four was formed by the leaders of Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians at conference at Sharm el-Sheikh. This report should carry the disclaimer too, but is startling enough to read in full.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the newly-elected Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen, Jordan’s King Abdullah and their beaming host, President Hosni Mubarak, were [...] thrown together alone and confronted with the task of forging a form of accord. With careful choreographing and expectations of little more than initial ice-breaking in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they succeeded quite well.


A new Middle East Club of Four came into being. With a good measure of audacity and inventiveness, this bloc could dictate the next steps towards lifting the Israel-Palestinian dispute out of its stalemate – or even play a role in other conflicts, such as Lebanon and Iraq. Mubarak hinted as much in his closing speech when he urged Israel to embrace Syria and Lebanon in its peace diplomacy. This call was taken as a token response to a request from Syrian president Bashar Assad to raise the Syrian issue at the summit. In fact, the Egyptian ruler was already beginning to weave other regional issues in with the conflict on the table.

While it probably too early to say whether these claims carry any credibility, the fact that they can even be raised as a plausible possibility seems to be a sign of changing times in the Middle East. The constant drip, drip of hopeful news from the region (like this, this, or this) reminds me of the years of Glasnost and Perestroika before the fall of the Berlin wall. I'm not holding my breath, but I think there is a chance we are on the verge of something big.

Hat tip : Roger L Simon