Late last night I consulted with my experts regarding the situation.
Key among them is an Arabic-speaking Israeli journalist who is in contact with the Palestinians. "You will notice," he observed, "that all of the news about the progress being made is coming from Olmert’s office. You can relax. They can’t agree on anything."
And indeed, my contact was totally on the mark. For today it is being reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post that the Palestinians are complaining that all they’re being offered in Judea and Samaria is a "mini-state of cantons," which was "completely unacceptable" and "provocative." What is more, they say the US Administration is supporting the Israeli position.
Abu Toameh cites an unidentified PA official : "Today, it’s clear to us that Israel has no intention of withdrawing from all the territories that were occupied in 1967.
"If the Israelis and Americans think that they will ever find a Palestinian leader who would accept less than the 1967 borders (sic), they are living under an illusion."
What is most significant is this: The PA officials alluded to maps presented in negotiations by Israel in the past few weeks. "We have made it clear to both the Israelis and Americans that they should throw away these maps. No Palestinian will ever agree to the presence of settlements or Israeli soldiers in the West Bank."
But wait! Didn’t Olmert say great progress had been made yesterday?
Not according to the PA officials , who said they were unaware of significant changes in Israel’s negotiating position and indicated that it was "premature" to speak of progress in the negotiations.
And so Olmert’s spin has been exposed. It seems he made no significant further concessions yesterday.
And what of the American position , which seems frequently contradictory?
According to my journalist source , Bush had told Abbas that he supported the promises implicit in his letter to Sharon in 2004 regarding retention of some major settlement blocs, and that he intended to express this publicly when he came here to celebrate our 60th.
This was indeed enough to send Abbas into deep depression. I cannot explain why he smiled in yesterday’s photo, after meeting with Olmert. Could be, as has been suggested, that he knows he’s finished if Olmert’s government goes, and so he wanted to help Olmert a bit with his spin.
Could be a lot of things, including (as has also been suggested) a promise that Bush wouldn’t go public with his position, or because he voiced a host of demands to Olmert who made vague promises to consider them.
More importantly, the question is asked how this computes with regard to Rice’s statements, which are totally hard line. (As are the statements of others such as National Security Advisor Steven Hadley.) My response to this is that there is not one coherent US policy and that Rice and her cohorts are pushing their own agenda. Bush, who seemed at first to truly "get it," has allowed himself to be led by Rice, as he has weakened politically. But on this issue, just possibly, he will come through.
Rice, it should be noted, is sending her people out into Palestinian areas to see how the locals are doing with regard to freedom of movement on the roads and the ability to transport their goods. (She failed to mention also weapons.) She isn’t sure that Israel has done enough yet, and wants first hand evidence of improvement in the Palestinians’ quality of life.
I would bet my life that she’s not sending her people into neighboring Jewish communities to see how their quality of life is affected by the fact that they may now get their heads blown off.
She’s pushing hard for a "memo of understanding" when Bush comes next week. According to Ha’aretz, Israeli officials who have met with her "said their impression is that she is determined to produce an achievement at almost any price…"
May she fall flat on her face.
This still leaves the question of how much damage Olmert can do until the situation arises in which he is no longer in power. And this is a question that is fraught with complexities and technicalities.
In a worst case scenario — which seems exceedingly unlikely — if Olmert were to make concessions to Abbas that allowed them to reach an agreement before Bush arrived, it would likely be a verbal agreement as time to draft a proper written one does not exist. Verbal agreements carry no legal weight. However, this does not mean there would be no damage to us. For each time a negotiation with the Palestinians is broken off, they resume by demanding to pick up where it left off, and our negotiators are mostly without the courage to refuse to do that.
As far as a written agreement goes, the Israeli prime minister has considerable (indeed regrettable) latitude. He would be expected to bring an agreement to his government (i.e., the Cabinet). But while it is traditional to bring it to the Knesset, he is not bound to do so and what he signs becomes law without Knesset approval. There are currently efforts being made to change the law in this regard, so that it would more closely resemble US law, which calls for Senate ratification of treaties.
At present it is my understanding that Netanyahu’s recent threat to refuse to abide by any deal with the PA made by Olmert is meaningless if Olmert has signed a paper, but would be possible, were Netanyahu truly to find the stamina, if promises were verbal only.
Whatever the law, however, there is enormous unrest within the government about the fact that Olmert is playing the negotiation cards so close to the chest. Members of his own Kadima party are incensed that he has not shared with them what is transpiring in the negotiations. It seems a bit unlikely that they would give him carte blanche on an agreement on which they had not been consulted.
Members of the opposition, meanwhile , are protesting that Olmert has no right to negotiate at all when his authority and his future as the head of state are under a cloud.
That investigation seems to be progressing apace , and the police have indicated that it is not yet time to remove the gag on the media other than to say a foreign (American) citizen is to be questioned. They say they will fight a lifting of the blackout as this might damage the case. And still there is talk of a "significant development."
One other legal point to be made: After the police have done their job in garnering whatever evidence exists (which is related to a period before Olmert became prime minister), it falls to Attorney General Mazuz to make the final decision regarding indictment.
In theory, if he were eager to allow Olmert to continue with negotiations, he could, legally, decide not to indict. (This would be a true worst case scenario.) But this is considered to be an unlikely outcome if the evidence is as ponderous as rumors suggest — the pressure on him to indict would be enormous.
But it’s time to move past all of this , as Yom HaZikaron — Israeli Memorial Day — starts this evening. Here the day is immediate and painful, as people remember families and friends who have fallen in defense of the nation. Since 1860, 22,437 have fallen in defense of the Land.
I say without fear of contradiction that we h
ave the finest defense force in the world. The stories of their selflessness and bravery are stunning. Time and time again they’ve won against odds that would have been thought impossible. I would say that Heaven was (and is) with them.
Tomorrow at 11:00 AM, a siren will sound and we will stand silently in memory of those who have fallen.
Then again at 8:00 PM another siren will sound and we will move into Yom Ha’atzmaut — Independence Day, our 60th! Already preparations for this are beginning, and flags are hung all over. How splendid to see them waving proudly in the breeze today.
More on this tomorrow.