According to the New York Times:
"The top American military commander for the Middle East has warned Iraq's prime minister in a closed-door conversation that the Iraqi government needs to make tangible political progress by next month to counter the growing tide of opposition to the war in Congress."
That is better than a message to Ehud Olmert that Israel needs to make tangible political progress in order to counter the growing frustration about the Middle East in Congress.
Perhaps the administration has noticed that there is a Palestinian civil war, and that not much is likely to happen by way of Israeli-Palestinian peace until that is over.
The administration should also notice that there is a civil war on its doorstep in Iraq that may complicate whatever efforts the Iraqi prime minister might want to make toward tangible political progress. He may even be part of the civil war, or cautious about any political moves until he sees just what faction of which community is likely to be on top. Asking a Shiite prime minister in Baghdad to make nice with Sunni activists is not the same as asking Protestants to get on with Catholics in Indianapolis.
The accepted wisdom is that there is conflict "on the verge of civil war" in both Iraq and in Palestine. "Civil war" is a naughty word, suggesting that the great power has erred in its effort to control things.
In the last couple of days fighters of Hamas and Fatah have targeted each other's headquarters buildings and leading politicians in Gaza. Daily tolls are in the magnitude of 15-20 deaths. That is minor league by comparison with Iraq, but there are enough ugly details. One ranking captive was tossed from the roof of a 15 storey building. It is more than a street corner dust-up between rival gangs.
The Palestinian conflict is only one factor likely to delay anything dramatic in our neighborhood. Another is fighting between Lebanese and Palestinians. Curiously, international human rights organizations are not as bothered about civilian casualties there as they are whenever Israel seeks to defend itself. (see http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article.php?id=1448)
Yet another element in the likelihood of remaining with the status quo is the weakness of the Israeli government. "Lame duck" is heard in the midst of Hebrew commentary.
In this parliamentary system there does not have to be a national election until 2010, but no one I hear expects the government to last that long. Olmert has been weakened in public opinion and in his own party by criticism of his performance in last year's Lebanese war, and several charges of corruption. Yet there is no obvious replacement who has a stronger base of power, and none of the parties in his coalition are intent about trying their luck in an early election. Comments about leaving the coalition by each candidate in today's Labor Party primary sound more like campaign rhetoric than serious planning. The Labor Party is at a historic low in its electoral strength, with enough internal dissent to postpone any leap to greatness.
The other lame duck spends his time in Washington, or going to other world centers like Albania and Bulgaria to hear some applause. No one hopeful of American aid is likely to spurn outright a message from Washington, but none are likely to go very far in compliance without knowing what kind of cooperation will prevail between the White House and Congress; and that seems unlikely before 2009.
Change can come quickly. Both Iran and Syria are likely sources of destabilization. But until there is something dramatic on breaking news, we can expect more of the same.