Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice , who is here now, came with full intention of strong-arming the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams into reaching a solid agreement. Basically, this meant pushing Israel to agree to a document with specifics. She needs that, you see, because the Palestinians are still saying that without this, they’re not coming.
But it does not appear that she will be getting what she was seeking, and this has begun to dawn on her. She began by declaring that she hoped to narrow gaps with regard to an outline for the final peace deal. But Olmert, putting Palestinian backs up, let it be known that he didn’t think an outline was necessary.
Rice has told journalists that she does not believe her visit is going to move things along sufficiently so that invitations could be issued. It seems, then, that she won’t be moving ahead unless she has a solid sense of the possibility of success — which may mean those invites never go out. "I don’t expect out of these meetings that there will be any particular outcome in the sense of breakthroughs on the document."
Olmert is holding out. I’m delighted with this, but don’t at all credit his sense of patriotism or concern for the integrity of Israel. Rather it’s a pragmatic political thing: He knows just now much his coalition is likely to tolerate before it falls apart, and he does not want to move beyond that line or he’s out of a job.
Rice has now directly confronted some of the opposition within the government that Olmert faces and this was undoubtedly instructive for her. Today she had a very tense meeting with Minister of Industry and Trade, Eli Yishai, who is head of the Shas party.
Said Yishai: "I am a man of peace and I long for peace. We have waited for real negotiations for a very long time, and we can wait some more…Today we have a Palestinian Authority with two heads. It is impossible to sign an agreement with only 40% of the Palestinian people….
"If the parties return [from Annapolis] with a signed agreement, this could shock the government and cause it to collapse."
Jerusalem is not on the table, Yishai told Rice.
The core issues will be discussed at the conference, countered Rice: "we are at the critical stage of implementing President George Bush’s vision to create a quiet and calm region here."
Note: this is the height of ludicrous thinking, as promotion of a terrorist state at our border does just the opposite.
"…President Bush is a true friend of Israel, particularly during the hard times. We have common enemies."
Note: sharing common enemies hardly makes Bush our "true" friend. And during the hard times? Bush seems to care not a whit.
"I am convinced that the Palestinians need an independent country."
Is she for real?
Rice also met with Minister of Defense Barak today. He told her, politely, that "Israel’s security [and] freedom of operation in the Judea and Samaria territories is a basic principle which must be maintained in the future." Undoubtedly not what she hoped to hear.
Additionally, Barak informed her that about what has happened regarding a major concession Israel made to the PA during her last visit to the area. We agreed to let the Palestinian security forces assume responsibility for security in Nablus (Shechem) during the daylight hours. However, since then the PA has failed to complete deployment of the necessary 500 police officers.
We are speaking, you understand , of the same PA that Rice says she believes "needs" an independent country.
Whatever her public statements , it seems to me likely that privately Rice is now asking herself, "What have we done?" She has got to be getting the picture, at least a little, try though she may to avoid it.
See "Rice’s Road Map," by Rick Richman in The NY Sun.
Writes Richman: "Over the last year, Ms. Rice has transformed U.S. policy from (a) support for a Palestinian state conditioned on compliance with Phase I and II of the Roadmap, to (b) support for Phase III final status negotiations to establish a Palestinian state ‘as soon as possible,’ even though the Palestinians have not complied with either Phase I or II.
"Under the Roadmap , final status negotiations were to occur only after a sustained and effective effort by the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure, Phase I, and then only after the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders and limited sovereignty, Phase II. With respect to Phase I, the PA has yet to dismantle a single terrorist organization, or arrest a terrorist leader, in the four years since the Palestinians accepted the Roadmap. In the same period, Israel dismantled 25 settlements, withdrew from Gaza, and released hundreds of prisoners. In 2006, the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist organization to control their legislature. In 2007, half the putative Palestinian state was taken over in a coup.
"With respect to Phase II, in January Mahmoud Abbas rejected a provisional state, and Ms. Rice then suggested that Phase II might be skipped, since it could be easier ‘just to go to the end game.’
Thus despite the PA’s inability to execute Phase I and its unwillingness to consider Phase II, the Bush administration is now devoting maximum effort to negotiate a Palestinian state ‘as soon as possible.’
My bet, however, is that in spite of her best efforts to create that state "as soon as possible," it will not happen now. Please G-d, never.
Other negotiating news: Haim Ramon has been dumped as head of the negotiating team by his good friend Ehud Olmert. Ramon, you see, opened up his mouth and said entirely too much with regard to dividing Jerusalem, thereby causing a backlash within the coalition and undoubtedly considerable trouble for Olmert. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will be taking his place.
Once again a report has surfaced , this time in Al Hayat in London, yesterday, that Abbas has agreed to talk with Hamas — something Abbas continues to deny. But this time there is an additional significant element added: Abbas has agreed to begin talks after the conference in Annapolis.
Makes perfect sense . He can continue to deny he will be meeting with Hamas until he sees how much he can extract from Israel. If he were to get a really good deal (something very unlikely at this point), he could then refuse to deal with Hamas at all. If not, it’s back into Hamas’s arms he’ll fly.
Meanwhile, the PA has decided to release 25 Hamas prisoners as a good will gesture for Id al-Fitr, the holiday that ends Ramadan.
Two more criminal investigations of Olmert are due to be launched. Members of Labor are questioning how much longer they can remain in the coalition, serving, as MK Shelly Yacimovich put it, as a cover for him.