Several sources who are in close contact with the White House have told the Forward that senior officials expressed concern over the political uncertainty in Israel.
The main questions being posed by Washington, according to the sources, are what power the Israeli street will have in determining the fate of the Olmert government and what role will the anti-government protest movement play in coming days and weeks.
A senior Bush administration official estimated, according to the sources, that if Olmert will be forced to step down without elections, there will be no change on “issues concerning war and peace.” The official added that all members of the Israeli government are united on major policy issues. At the same time, the official said, it is not clear what will happen if Israel goes to elections.
The political crisis in Israel comes days after America formally set out benchmarks for the Palestinians and the Israelis in order to achieve progress on confidence-building measures. The eight-month timetable demands that the Palestinians deploy forces in areas used for firing rockets against Israel, and requires Israel to allow access between Gaza and the West Bank.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is scheduled to discuss these measures in the region in two weeks, did not cancel her visit.
“All of Rice’s plans will only work if the Olmert government stays in power,” Meyrav Wurmser said. Wurmser is head of the Middle East program at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
The Winograd report, which was read from cover to cover by Bush administration officials, strengthened the sense of disappointment in Washington over Israel’s conduct in last summer’s war in Lebanon. A source in contact with the administration said that the report “reminded us how poorly Israel did” in the war.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.