Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: She’s giving it the "old college try," keeping a smile on her face in public. And she delivers optimistic pronouncements that make it clear how important this venture in negotiating peace is to her and to Bush.
At a press conference yesterday she said , "I wanted to say in my own voice to be able to say to as many people as possible that the United States sees the establishment of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution as absolutely essential for the future, not just of Palestinians and Israelis, but also for the Middle East and indeed for American interests. That’s really a message that I think only I can deliver."
This raises, once again, the question of exactly how much reality regarding this part of the world she’s in touch with. Not much, it’s clear. In fact, according to Haaretz today, Rice, in private, associates the efforts of the Palestinians to have a state with the efforts of African Americans to secure full freedoms in the 1960s. The security fence reminds her of segregation. "Now, Rice is comparing Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayad, to Martin Luther King." Oi vey.
She must be pleased that Olmert came out with a statement at the Knesset yesterday about the possibility of relinquishing some outlying Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem (although this falls far far short of anything the PA would accept).
And today she had a victory of sorts in Egypt, where a reluctant foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, finally said his country would support her efforts.
But is she getting it? Is she internalizing the truth about the impossibility of negotiating peace now?
We must suspect she does get it , at least a bit, as she’s now talking about postponing the meeting until December if the parties aren’t ready yet.
Shas head MK Eli Yishai gave her a hard time on Sunday.
Yesterday she met with Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, who delivered news that could not have made her very happy.
War — a Defensive Shield type operation — in Gaza , is inevitable, said Lieberman. He’s absolutely right, but this does complicate matters, especially as Abbas is demanding that Gaza be included in the negotiations. And there’s more: Lieberman told her that last week his party’s central committee drew their red lines. If "dividing the holy basin of Jerusalem" is discussed, they will leave the coalition.
Said Lieberman to Rice: "In the current political conditions, the government cannot allow itself to make controversial decisions on sensitive issues. The conference planned for Annapolis is a mistake."
Meanwhile, the negotiating committee is meeting, with Tzipni Livni at the head of the Israeli delegation; nothing has been accomplished to date.
And according to Al-Quds al-Arabi in London today , Ahmed Qurei, lead PA negotiator, is thinking of quitting because the Israelis aren’t serious. He is still looking for "a detailed, clear-cut document on final status issues," which Olmert is disinclined to give him.
Of course, the goal that we must continue to hope for and work towards is NO meeting, not a postponed meeting. That this period of "peace negotiations" is not going to lead to a Palestinian state at this point is fairly apparent. This is not the primary concern. It is, rather, the precedents that would be set. As I’ve already written, Rice is seeking to jump over stages I and II of the Road Map, which call for dismantling of terrorist infrastructure by the PA and then a state with provisional borders as a step, and establish a finalized state without delay. If the meeting is established on this principle, even if the state doesn’t come into being, the next time meetings are called for, notions of dismantling terrorism or having provisional steps will have been completely forgotten.
A great deal is being said by various commentators regarding the whole matter of negotiations, and I’d like to share a particularly pertinent analysis from today’s Jerusalem Post editorial:
"Palestinian leaders…have never uttered the word ‘Jewish state.’ This cannot be regarded as an oversight…
"This is not an academic or semantic problem . That the Palestinians have been unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and even deny, as Yasser Arafat did, any legitimate Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, Western Wall or any other part of Israel, amounts to a denial of Israel’s right to exist. Unless or until this is rectified, their purported acceptance of a two-state solution is unconvincing, a ruse; thus far, there is only one state to whose legitimacy they are committed: Palestine.
"…Successful negotiations towards a two-state solution cannot proceed in earnest when one side denies the fundamental legitimacy of the other’s state. Such a challenge violates the principle of mutual recognition, which must be established as a prerequisite to negotiations…
"One would like to be fully confident that the prime minister would walk away from any deal that does not advance this fundamental position, but such confidence is in short supply…"
This brings us again to thoughts about how to negotiate with Arabs, which I have addressed in the past. The entire negotiating style is different from what Westerners expect, and it is certainty that someone like Condoleezza Rice has not a clue. The Arabs are masters at grabbing the maximum, without compromise. The naive or uninitiated can be badly burned.
I note with gratitude the outpouring of response , here in Israel and in the US, regarding suggestions that Jerusalem be divided. There are a number of actions afoot to protest this vigorously and to prevent it from happening. In due course I may have more on this.
There is some action taking place with regard to securing the release from Hezbollah of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. This comes after rumors floated that said they were dead, and then that they had been transferred to Iran — both of which seem to not be the case. What is being discussed is the release of some Lebanese soldiers in return for our soldiers.
This follows a preliminary swap that occurred on Monday, when Israel turned over a Hezbollah prisoner and the bodies of two Hezbollah guerillas in return for the body of an Israeli, who had drowned in the bay of Haifa and whose body had drifted to Lebanon two years ago. Until Hezbollah announced that they had him, the family of Gavriel Daweet had no idea what had happened to him.
Unconfirmed reports have it that as part of this preliminary deal, Hezbollah also released material written by Israeli airman Ron Arad at the time of his disappearance, when his plane went down over Lebanon 21 years ago.
Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah says that negotiations, brokered by Germany, for the release of Goldwasser and Regev have been taking place for months. There is an air of cautious enthusiasm in the country with regard to this, with the need to see tangible results before expectations are raised; there remains the possibility that Hezbollah will increase their demands to unreasonable levels.
Good to end with a smile: National Union chairman Benny Elon presented his Israel Initiative plan to Olmert on Monday. Elon said he told Olmert the plan could be used as an altern
ative after the Annapolis summit fails. If only!